The University of Tulsa’s first victory of the season was neither easy nor pretty.

Despite being the superior team, the Hurricane found itself in a close game late against Arkansas State on Saturday as a result of a pair of touchdowns surrendered on punt and kick returns.

“If you give up two returns in special teams, I would say 99% of the time you don’t win the game,” coach Philip Montgomery said. “That crap can’t happen. It should never happen.”

TU managed to overcome those miscues and pull out the 41-34 win at H.A. Chapman Stadium, burning enough time with a game-ending drive that lasted six minutes and 34 seconds and taking a knee on the final two plays.

Take away those 14 points scored on special teams and the Hurricane was otherwise solid, producing 663 yards of offense and holding the opponent to 359 yards. Quarterback Davis Brin continued his progression, orchestrating three touchdown drives that required only one play.

“I think we can be very explosive as long as we keep executing and clean up some penalties some more and keep rolling,” Brin said.

After a bad snap derailed TU’s first drive, Arkansas State’s Johnnie Lang found a lane on the punt return for a 63-yard touchdown. Later in the first quarter, Brin connected with Sam Crawford Jr. for an 88-yard bomb that was the fifth-longest pass play in program history.

“That was fun,” Crawford said. “I love one-play drives.”

The teams combined for four pass plays of at least 20 yards in the first quarter including a 39-yard catch by Oklahoma transfer Dahu Green that gave Arkansas State a 14-7 advantage.

The Hurricane offense took off in the second quarter, when Shamari Brooks found the end zone on a 25-yard run and JuanCarlos Santana cashed in on a 34-yard touchdown pass that came one play after a fumble recovery by Jaxon Player.

With a field goal from Zack Long, TU led 24-14 at halftime, scoring more points in the first half than it did in each of the three previous games.

The game got weird in the second half despite the Hurricane taking a 38-21 lead on a 75-yard touchdown run from Anthony Watkins. On the ensuing kickoff, Alan Lamar raced virtually untouched for the 93-yard score.

“We’ve got to look at the personnel we’ve got on the field (on special teams),” Montgomery said. “We’ve got to look at schematically what we’re doing. You have to dive deep into it. I’m not saying you can overhaul it in one week, but you’ve got to make big jumps and we’ve got to make sure we shore that up.”

The penalties started to add up for TU, ultimately totaling 10 for 84 yards and coming at key moments. Holding penalties negated a pair of second-half touchdowns that would have locked up the victory in a less stressful way.

“I think we made it a little hard on ourselves this game with some penalties, and we have to clean that up a little bit,” Brin said. “We’re just looking forward to Houston and going 1-0 (next week).”

After Arkansas State (1-3) got within a touchdown heading into the fourth quarter, Long hit a 45-yard field goal and the defense delivered back-to-back stops. With more than six minutes on the clock, TU slowly churned out enough yards to march to the Red Wolves’ 1-yard line, content to stop there and wrap up the win.

“You can take a knee … and the game would be over,” Montgomery said. “I love the touchdown, but I want the win more than a touchdown.”

- Kelly Hines, Tulsa World

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