Head coach Bob Toledo said Green Wave tight end Gabe Ratcliff clearly was able to get out of bounds after making a first-down catch at midfield with 17 seconds to go.
"We see very clearly in our video he catches the ball; he's going out of bounds," Toledo said Tuesday. "He lands, clearly, out of bounds." Tulane had a time-out remaining and Toledo said he intended to save it for another play while the Green Wave tried to get into field goal range.
While Tulane huddled, thinking the clock would be stopped until the next snap, the referee signaled for the clock to start as soon as the chains were moved to mark the new first-down distance.
Neither Toledo nor quarterback Anthony Scelfo realized the game clock was running again until Tulane's offense came to the line of scrimmage with about 7 seconds left.
Scelfo ran a play instead of using Tulane's last time-out. He was tackled after scrambling 5 yards and the game ended.
Toledo, who has coached in college for more than three decades, said when a team is in a hurry-up offense, officials usually make it clear if they intend to keep the clock running immediately after any play that ends near the sideline.
To do so, they generally make a winding motion with one arm after the tackle, then temporarily stop the clock to reset the chains, Toledo said.
In this case, the line judge only waved his arms above his head, indicating that Ratcliff was out of bounds.
"It all happened so fast and we were unaware of it and I didn't know what to do at that point," Toledo said. "The game was over and everything else is water under the bridge. ... We've sent video in that shows everything and now it's up to the commissioner to get back to us and the supervisor of officials."
It was the third close loss of the season for Tulane (2-6, 1-3 Conference USA), which also fell 20-17 in overtime at Army and lost 26-21 at Alabama-Birmingham.
Toledo stopped short of blaming officials for Tulane's latest loss, however. Tulane also missed a 22-yard field goal with 5:07 remaining.
"The officials didn't lose the game for us," Toledo said. "I'm not blaming officials. I'm just saying I wish we would have had a chance to see what we could have done."