Tramel column: Heartbreak hard to swallow for TU
Tulsa's final-play strategy backfires
TU-East Carolina: Report Card
TU-East Carolina: How they scored
Stolen moment: Pirates snatch victory on game's final play
Original Print Headline: TU Notebook: Nice debut
Trey Watts finished with 40 rushing yards and 45 receiving yards in his debut as Tulsa's starting tailback in Sunday's 51-49 loss at East Carolina.
"It went OK until the last play," said Watts, a walk-on redshirt freshman. "The biggest thing was I thought I pass-blocked very well. That was one of my biggest concerns, protecting G.J. (Kinne) and I thought I did that very well."
Watts had a scary moment on his first touch, fumbling the ball on a run up the middle.
"I got the ball and security wasn't the best," Watts said. "I bobbled it a bit and dropped it. I was fortunate to get it back."
Watts played in front of his parents, J.C. and Frankie Watts, who traveled to Greenville, N.C., for the game.
Feeling the pain:
New offensive coordinator Chad Morris didn't want to talk about his high-flying offense following the gut-wrenching loss.
"We lost and that hurts," Morris said. "You have a lot of young men in that locker room that are hurting right now. They laid their heart and soul on the field and gave us everything they had and we came up short. I hurt for them."
How was Morris' first game-day experience with head coach Todd Graham?
"Coach Graham was everything that he said he was going to be," Morris said. "I respect that. I know coach Graham is hurting right now. He's a winner and a leader. We're going to pull this thing together."
East Carolina had a key fourth-down conversion on its 38-yard line midway through the fourth quarter.
Trailing 42-38, ECU coach Ruffin McNeill chose to go for a first down on fourth-and-3. Quarterback Dominique Davis found Joe Womack for a 26-yard catch and extended a drive that ended with Davis' 34-yard TD pass to Dwayne Harris.
"We made a critical error on a (fourth) down," Graham said. "We didn't run the coverage."
It wasn't the Pirates' only fourth-down conversion. Its last one came on the game's final play, Davis' 33-yard touchdown pass to Justin Jones.
Trae Johnson made his 25th career touchdown reception midway through the fourth quarter, yanking down a pass that was intended for Thomas Roberson and then ricocheted at least 20 feet in the air and then finding Johnson's arms in the end zone.
"I just saw an opportunity to help my team," Johnson said. "I saw the ball in the air after Thomas missed it ... I flashed toward the ball and I got it before (the ECU defenders) did."
Johnson now sits seven TD catches shy of the all-time school record held by Steve Largent and Howard Twilley.
Tulsa's longest play in 2009 covered 63 yards through 12 games.
TU topped that Sunday when QB G.J. Kinne connected with sophomore Willie Carter for a 75-yard scoring pass in the fourth quarter. The strike gave TU a 35-31 lead with 12:54 to play. Carter caught only three passes previously. He had 17 total receiving yards before outracing the ECU secondary.
Tulsa had 11 freshmen play in the season opener, including six true freshmen, three redshirt and two grayshirt freshmen.
Players with highlight moments included Watts (85 all-purpose yards), Roberson (57 all-purpose yards, including 29-yard reception, 20-yard run) and Ja'Terian Douglas (20-yard run). Safety Marco Nelson registered 3.5 tackles and Cody Wilson had 1.5 tackles and a quarterback hurry.