ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Tulane tight end Alex Bauman caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Michael Pratt nine seconds from time for a frantic finish through the 16th-ranked Green Wave in a 46-45 win over Heisman Trophy -Winner Caleb Williams to crown No. 10 Southern California at the Cotton Bowl on Monday.
Bauman’s contested catch, with linebacker Eric Gentry draped over him, was initially ruled incomplete, but a review of the replay showed the ball never touched the ground as players rolled over in the end zone. The Green Wave scored 16 points in the last 4 minutes and 7 seconds, with the game-winning touchdown coming after they recovered the ball from a safety.
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, teams have ranked 1-1,692 over the past five seasons if they were 15 or more points behind in the fourth quarter and had five minutes or less left in the fourth quarter. The only win came in 2020 when Texas came back against Texas Tech.
“I might have had a heart attack,” Tulane coach Willie Fritz said shortly after the game ended.
Williams was a 37-for-52 pass for 462 yards and a Cotton Bowl-record five touchdowns exactly a month after the quarterback in USC’s loss to Utah in the Pac-12 championship game that stopped the Trojans from scoring the had suffered a hamstring injury to make four -team college football playoff.
Tyjae Spears rushed for 205 yards, and his career-best fourth touchdown started the final points push for American Athletic Conference champion Green Wave (12-2), who completed an FBS-record nine wins after going 2-10 last season. They were the top-ranked Group of 5 team in the New Year’s Six game.
The Green Wave played in their most significant bowl since the 1940 New Year’s Day Sugar Bowl while they were still in the Southeastern Conference, and it was their biggest bowl win since the 1935 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, where their campus is located.
After Spears’ 4-yard TD with 4:07 left, the Green Wave opted to go deep rather than attempt an onside kick. Mario Williams signaled a fair catch but fumbled the ball wide on the 1. Two games later, defensive tackle Patrick Jenkins met Austin Jones in the end zone and choked him to safety.
“We debated whether or not to do an onside kick,” said Fritz, the seventh-year Tulane coach. “The book kind of told us that it tended a little bit to kick it deep. Obviously it was great that we got it on the 1 and got the safety.”
Pratt completed just 8 of 17 passes for 234 yards but had two 24-yard completions on that final drive to safety. The first against Bauman converted a fourth and a 10, and Duece Watts held on despite a crushing hit from a defender that left both of them down 18 seconds after a 24-yard gain on the 6.
The first 24-yard completion for Bauman converted a fourth and a tenth. Deuce Watts then held on despite a crushing hit from a defender that left both of them down 18 seconds after a 24-yard gain on the 6.
After Williams followed Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, the Trojans (11-3) pulled off the biggest turnaround in school history (11-3) despite the coach’s first loss in six games at AT&T Stadium. It was a seven-win improvement from last season’s 4-8 record before Riley and Williams arrived on the West Coast.
The Trojans, who were never behind until that final touchdown, jumped a 14-0 lead as Williams threw TD passes at each of their first two possessions. His 9-yard TD against Michael Jackson III capped the game-opening drive that lasted 9 minutes, the longest for USC so far this season, and Terrell Bynum’s 3-yard catch capped a 95-yard drive early in the second quarter .
Tulane tied the game at 14 on Pratt’s touchdown pass to Jha’Quan Jackson, an 87-yard catch-and-run. But USC scored twice in the last 2:21 of the first half, on Raleek Brown’s 39-yard run and Brenden Rice’s 4-yard catch by 12 seconds.
The son of Pro Football Hall of Fame recipient Jerry Rice, Rice had career bests with six catches for 174 yards and two touchdowns. Tahj Washington had five catches for 109 yards.
Williams injured his hamstring on a 59-yard rush early in the Pac-12 championship game loss to Utah on December 2, but still threw for 363 yards and three TDs while finishing that game.
USC’s only previous losses this season have been the Utes, who they defeated at home with a game-winning 2-point conversion in mid-October.
The Cotton Bowl was William’s third game this season with five TD passes. His only interception set up Tulane’s long TD. In an open field scramble in front of him, Williams instead threw off his back foot and was picked up by Jarius Monroe.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.