NEW ORLEANS -- After vaulting into the rankings with two upsets, East Carolina barely avoided being on the receiving end of a surprising loss.
The Pirates (3-0, 1-0 Conference USA) moved into the AP Top 25 -- and the national spotlight -- by upsetting Virginia Tech and West Virginia in consecutive weeks, but they had to overcome four turnovers and a scrappy Green Wave (0-2, 0-1) team to stay unbeaten.
"It was a great win; you can't take any of them for granted," East Carolina coach Skip Holtz said. "To go on the road and come off the two emotional football games that we just came off of and to come out here and play the way we did and still get a win in this game, I am as excited as I can be."
Pinkney completed 22 of 32 passes for 260 yards and two touchdowns, and the Pirates improved to 3-0 for the first time since 1999. ECU secured the victory when Pierre Bell intercepted Kevin Moore's pass at the Green Wave 45 with 28 seconds left.
"I just had to relax and trust my line and trust that my receivers would make plays and catch the ball," said Pinkney, who engineered three second-half touchdown drives. "We just had to get in our rhythm and once we did that we started moving the ball. During the second half is when we started to get a grasp on the game and get into our groove."
Ross Thevenot kicked a 28-yard field goal with 13:40 left in the fourth quarter to put Tulane up 24-21.
Pinkney drove the Pirates 80 yards in nine plays for the winning score as Tulane lost its 34th consecutive game against a ranked opponent.
The Green Wave last beat a ranked team in 1982 when they defeated No. 12 LSU 31-28.
"It's very disheartening to the play the 14th-ranked team and come up that short," said Tulane coach Bob Toledo, whose team lost 20-6 to Alabama a week earlier. "We have to learn how to win and learn how to put people away and finish games."
Moore was 21-for-37 for 236 yards and a 47-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Williams in the third quarter that tied it at 14.
Williams finished with eight catches for 138 yards, and Andre Anderson ran for 82 yards and two touchdowns.
Brandon Simmons' broke a 7-7 halftime tie for East Carolina with a 3-yard touchdown run, capping the first drive of the second half.
The Pirates regained the lead, 21-14, on the next possession as Pinkney's screen pass to Norman Whitley turned into a 51-yard touchdown with 5:45 remaining in the third quarter.
Anderson's 1-yard TD run late in the third quarter tied the score again.
East Carolina's C.J. Wilson blocked Tevenot's 46-yard field-goal attempt and Quentin Cotton returned the ball 44 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 12:16 remaining in the second quarter.
Evan Lee's fumble recovery at the East Carolina 10 set up Tulane's first score, a 1-yard run by Anderson with 59 seconds left in the first quarter.