If Louisiana’s Ragin Cajuns earn a fifth consecutive bowl bid the ULM game may be the reason why. With the 30-24 win UL becomes one of only four Sun Belt teams with a winning record in conference play. The Cajuns’ remaining schedule includes only one of the three teams ahead of them, Appalachian State. And while anything can happen, if UL only holds their place in the standings they will be eligible for one of the four bowl slots allotted the Sun Belt.
The Cajuns’ win Saturday despite trying circumstances, some of their own making, could galvanize the team and prepare them for the final five games of the season. The official game summary reported the weather as “light drizzle.” It is unlikely 15,000 Cajun fans ate their tickets for only a “light drizzle.” The 2,000 or so fans present for the Homecoming kickoff against an arch rival diminished steadily as the rain fell throughout the game. Add to the depressing atmosphere of thousands of empty seats a stifling ULM defense focused on stopping UL running back Elijah McGuire, a debilitating 2 for 14 third down conversion rate, two fourth down ULM touchdown passes by redshirt freshman QB Garret Smith in the first quarter, another half time deficit (the fifth in seven games), a failed two-point conversion to tie and a missed field goal to take the lead, both in the fourth quarter, and the Cajuns had reasons enough to retire to the new Athletic Performance Center for some dry towels.
Instead the Cajuns took the second half kickoff and covered 64 yards behind QB Brooks Haack, in for Jalen Nixon, and RB Torrey Pierce, in for Elijah McGuire, to close to 24-16. Nixon and McGuire contributed to the drive with a run for a first down and another run for the last six yards for the TD, respectively. On Monday Coach Mark Hudspeth mercifully ended the never-ending mystery of who was UL’s quarterback by adopting a two-quarterback system for the rest of 2015. Maybe Hudspeth was tired of answering the question, maybe he still doesn’t know. Most likely he realized UL can lose with either but can only win with both.
The UL defense’s halftime was also well-spent. After giving up 24 points in the first half the Cajuns shut out the Warhawks in the second. The secondary, plagued by injuries and inconsistency, held Smith to only 76 yards passing in the second half, a total equal to the rushing yards ULM gained for the game.
UL’s special teams lived up to their name. Freshman Stevie Artigue’s three first half field goals kept his team in the game. A blocked punt by freshman Chaiziere Malbrue gave the Cajuns field position that eventually led to the first of two UL fourth quarter touchdowns. When ULM went three and out after that score McGuire’s 37-yard punt return gave UL a chance for the lead.
Then Jamal Robinson confirmed the obvious: the Cajuns are a different team when he is healthy enough to make game-changing plays. With 3:20 left in the game, down 24-22, the Cajuns took over on their own 36-yard line. Haack dropped back, handling the ball like a greased armadillo. Somehow he lofted the ball high into the driving rain. The looping pass found Robinson with a single defender chasing him down the middle of the field. Seconds later the Cajuns took the lead for good.
Saturday’s win was huge and the Cajuns knew it. After perfunctory handshakes with the Warhawks, the team gathered in the center of the field, then ran to the corner where the band, dressed in classy vermillion rain coats, saluted them. Their cheers echoed around Cajun Field. Soon the players set out to circle the field to slap hands and sometimes hug the few fans remaining. It was quite a sight. Cajun fans ought to invest in some rain gear to avoid missing a repeat of a memorable night.