From the Bird’s Nest: They’ll Be Talking About This One for a Long Time
I gotta admit, I had buried them.
When Louisiana-Monroe converted the game’s only turnover into a touchdown with a little over three minutes left, I figured it was over. And, if you listened to the broadcast, you heard it in my voice.
Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns were down to the Warhawks 35-24. There were just over three minutes left. The Cajuns had one timeout. The scenario was pretty clear. Score quickly, get the onside kick and score quickly.
Problem was, the Cajuns hadn’t been able to score all day, except in the second quarter.
Half of the 28,000 plus fans had buried the Cajuns as well. They had headed for the exits. I don’t think I would have left had I not been working, but I certainly wasn’t optimistic.
But a short kickoff combined with a personal foul penalty gave the ball to the Cajuns in ULM territory. On third down, Blaine Gautier found Harry Peoples over the middle for 23 yards to the ULM 23. Peoples caught another pass for seven yards and on third and three, Gautier found Darryl Surgent for the touchdown.
It took a minute and three seconds.
The two point conversion failed. Now, it was time for the onsides kick.
Now, I have to say, Brett Baer is the best I’ve ever seen at this. The Cajuns were 4 out of 6 the last two seasons when Baer kicked onside, including 1 for 1 this season. But the odds still were against the Cajuns.
Until Baer was perfect, again.
Set up at the ULM 39, Gautier hit Robert Walker for twelve and Javone Lawson for 23 down to the three yard line. Alonzo Harris took it in from there.
It took less than a minute.
Then it was up to the Cajuns’ defense to make sure ULM couldn’t get into field goal range. And, they did. The big play came on third down with time running out. ULM quarterback Kolton Browning hit Brett Leonard with a pass. But Bill Bentley and Lionel Stokes stopped Leonard for no gain and stopped his forward progress before Leonard went out of bounds. The clock continued to run and the Cajuns got the win on the next play.
I don’t ever remember a Cajuns’ victory quite like that one.
There was the great comeback against Northeast Louisiana back in 1982 when the Cajuns got 40 unanswered points after trailing 26-0 at halftime. And, there was the incredible Brian Mitchell comeback in his final game when he converted a two point conversion not once, but twice, to beat Arkansas State 29-28.
But down two scores with three minutes left? Nope. Not in my memory bank.
John Dugas, UL’s Assistant Athletic Director for Internal Affairs, headquarters right next to me. He said it well once the game ended: “When you have one like that, you know you’re having a special season.”
The Cajuns finish 5-0 at home, their first unbeaten season at Cajun Field since 1987, Brian Mitchell’s sophomore season. They’ve obliterated the old record for average attendance for a season, with over 29,000 on average.
And, the Cajuns won wearing white on white.
And, they won on my birthday, again.
With the New Orleans Bowl a virtual lock, there’s one more goal to accomplish and that can happen next Saturday in Jonesboro, AR, when the Cajuns take on first place Arkansas State. A win there would give the Cajuns no worse than a tie for the Sun Belt title. Jonesboro is not an easy place to win. Arkansas State, like the Cajuns, is unbeaten at home. Louisiana is a double-digit underdog for that game.
But I’m not counting them out. I learned my lesson on Saturday.