Belief Systems

by John Mikell

Photo by Buddy Delahoussaye

Every child eventually discovers Santa Claus is not real. It’s tough for a kid to find out Santa is part of an elaborate belief system constructed to enhance the wonders of childhood. As painful as it may be, that discovery is part of growing up and only the first of many revelations to come. Just as painful and far more costly is the realization that sharps from Vegas and Reno don’t always know what team will win or who to bet on.

Take the 2014 New Orleans Bowl. The experts knew going into the game Nevada had the hot quarterback, the only one in FBS history worthy of comparison to Colin Kaepernick. The Wolf Pack also was on a roll. In its last regular season game it rushed for 408 yards with three players over 100 yards. Nevada had kept the score close against the best teams on its schedule, Boise State and Arizona, and beat a Pac-12 team.

Then the sharps looked at UL, recognized none of the players, remembered watching part of the Boise State-UL game and concluded the Sun Belt was vastly inferior to the Mountain West Conference. After the necessary calculations, the experts called Nevada everything from a “lock” as a 1-point underdog to a three-touchdown favorite.

That belief system lasted barely three minutes into the New Orleans Bowl — the time it took the Ragin’ Cajuns to execute a blitzkrieg drive of 77 yards in eight plays, five over 12 yards, ending with a Terrance Broadway to CJ Bates TD pass. Nevada’s first possession went three and out. The Cajuns then embarked on a more leisurely 60-yard drive that ate up 6:58 and finished with the first of Hunter Stover’s three field goals. At the end of the first quarter UL was up 10-0 and led the time of possession 10:32 to 4:28.

Early in the second quarter Nevada put together its best drive and from the UL 19 QB Cody Fajardo found a receiver at the UL 11. A jarring hit by Sean Thomas shook the ball loose, and Dominque Tovall recovered. After three UL plays, a short punt allowed the Wolf Pack to try again starting at the UL 26. Three running plays advanced the ball to the 2 yard line. On third and one Fajardo was stopped at the goal line by Christian Ringo but still got the first down. After first and goal at the one, a false start, a stuffed run up the middle and two incompletions forced Nevada to settle for a field goal.

Photo by Sonya Barbier

The Ragin’ Cajuns held the ball for the rest of the first half, and the only play of note was when Broadway, with a minute left, threw an incomplete pass. It was his first after 14 consecutive completions, the best start and the third best streak in FBS bowl history.

Broadway won his second New Orleans Bowl Most Valuable Player award and the brightly colored Mardi-Gras-themed helmet that goes with it. If a broken arm had not limited his effectiveness last year, he would probably have three helmets to go with his three starts and three wins. In the New Orleans Bowl Broadway’s career totals are 59 completions in 82 attempts for 686 yards and two TDs. He ran for a third.

The second half against Nevada was turned over to the Ragin’ Cajun defense. The Wolf Pack crossed midfield once, only to turn the ball over on downs at the UL 35. UL’s edge in size and athleticism was most evident when its defense was on the field. Ringo and Justin Hamilton dominated the line of scrimmage, the linebackers were active, and Corey Trim and Sean Thomas led a secondary that held Fajardo to 14-29 for 124 yards. Overall it was probably the best defensive performance in the Hudspeth era. The 16-3 final indicated as much.

College football seasons are short but more than long enough to encompass the ups and downs of young men playing a difficult, demanding game. Success on the field is complicated not only by injuries and expectations but also by off-the-field obligations to academics and family. Mark Hudspeth did his best work this year refocusing his team after a 1-3 start to reach where it is today: the only team to win the same bowl for four consecutive years.

Of course, Hud knows bowls. USA Today quoted Broadway’s reaction when he entered the hotel meeting room on game day hours before the unusual 10 a.m. kickoff: “It looked like people were partying in the meeting rooms, like the music was blasting. It was like it was 3 o’clock in the afternoon. It didn’t look like it was 5:45, and our team was ready.”

Partying at 5:45 a.m. on game day? That’s something the Vegas sharps didn’t consider.

John Mikell believes energy-efficient air conditioning and football are the keys to Louisiana’s future. He lives near Grand Coteau.

Photo by Sonya Barbier
Photo by Buddy Delahoussaye
Photos by Mark Lagrange