FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Justin McMillan threw three touchdown passes in the third quarter as Tulane rallied for a 30-13 win while renewing a rivalry against Southern Mississippi in the Armed Forces Bowl on Saturday.
The Golden Eagles (7-6) took a 13-0 lead after Jack Abraham threw a touchdown pass and ran for a score on their first drives, but the quarterback took a hard shot on his last snap before halftime and didn't play again. They also lost top running back De'Michael Harris to a hamstring injury in the first half.
Tulane (7-6) tied the game at 13-all on its first possession after halftime, when McMillan threw a 52-yard TD pass to Jalen McCleskey.
“Obviously we didn't play great in the first half. ... Five weeks off, I think that hurt us a little bit,” coach Willie Fritz said. “It takes me a while to get the rhythm back.”
The Green Wave certainly did after halftime while Southern Miss struggled without two of its offensive threats.
“We really just had a disastrous third quarter any way you want to cut it,” Southern Miss coach Jay Hopson said. “Tulane made plays offensively, they had some explosives, we had some mental errors. I think explosive plays kill you in football. I thought we played hard and I believe we competed to the very end. ... Injuries are always a part of the game and it’s just next man up.”
McMillan had a high-stepping 18-yard run to set up Merek Glover's third field goal, a tiebreaking 36-yarder, before TD passes to Jacob Robertson (7 yards) and a wide-open Amare Jones (20 yards) on the next two drives.
McMillan had only 22 yards passing at halftime, but was 9-of-10 for 193 yards after that in his final game. The former transfer from LSU won two Texas state championships playing at Cedar Hill High School, which is about 35 miles from the TCU campus where the bowl was played.
“It is a home game, I live right down the road,” McMillan said. “It feels good to, one, play a game down here, two, to have two parents in the military. It's literally a Cinderella story for me.”
Abraham, only the third Golden Eagles quarterback with a 3,000-yard passing season, threw 44-yard touchdown pass to Quez Watkins and ran 3 yards for another score for the 13-0 lead.
But Abraham took a shot on a blitz by linebacker Lawrence Graham and fell hard on his shoulder on a third-down incompletion in the final minute of the first half. Abraham never returned, though he was still in uniform on the sideline after halftime.
Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles had 164 total yards after their first two drives, and only 35 more the rest of the first half. Thad Whatley, the sophomore quarterback who took over for Abraham, had attempted only seven passes while appearing in two games during the regular season. He was 9-of-22 passing for 134 yards with two interceptions. Watkins finished with eight catches for 121 yards.
Tulane: A positive finish for the Green Wave after losing their last three games in the regular season. They had gotten off to a 5-1 start before back-to-back road losses in late October to Memphis and Navy.
Southern Miss will open coach Hopson's fifth season, after four consecutive winning seasons, Sept. 5 at home against South Alabama. Abraham, the former junior college transfer who has started 22 games the past two seasons, is expected back and could have his top three receivers: Watkins, Jaylond Adams and Tim Jones.
Tulane will have a new quarterback, possibly former Southern Miss transfer Keon Howard. The Green Wave this season went to consecutive bowls for the first time since 1979-80, but they have never gone to bowl games in three consecutive seasons. They start the season with a Thursday night game at home on Sept. 3 against Southeastern Louisiana.
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