Jay’s Memorable Moment #6 – Don’t Let Go
Louisiana 36, Louisiana-Monroe 35
Cajun Field, Lafayette, LA
November 5, 2011
When Mark Hudspeth became head coach of Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns in December, 2010, he set some goals for his program.
1. Get Bowl Eligible
2. Go unbeaten at home
3. Win the league
4. Go to a bowl game
5. Win a bowl game
By November 5th, the Cajuns were bowl eligible and were all but guaranteed a berth in the New Orleans Bowl. But if the Cajuns were going to go unbeaten at home, November 5th was a big day.
It was Senior Day, the final home game of the season. And, Louisiana-Monroe, the Cajuns’ in-state conference rival was the opponent. The Cajuns were working on a three game winning streak in the series, with two of the wins coming at Malone Stadium. The previous year, it was Cooper Gerami’s block of an extra point in the final minute that gave the Cajuns a 23-22 win.
Hudspeth had used many things to motivate not only his players, but the fans as well, and “don’t let go of the rope” became a battle cry during the 2011 season.
On a beautiful 70 degree afternoon, the Cajuns took the field to see if they could finish the job at home for 2011.
The game got off to an inauspicious start when Darryl Surgent fielded the opening kickoff and stepped out of bounds on the Cajuns’ six yard line and Alonzo Harris lost four yards on first down. But to the Cajuns credit, they managed to move the ball out to the 31 before having to punt.
The Warhawks’ quarterback, Kolton Browning was similar to Cajuns’ quarterback Blaine Gautier in that he was capable of moving his team with his legs as well as his arm. Browning gained four yards on first down and after throwing an incompletion, ran a quarterback draw to perfection 62 yards for a touchdown and ULM had an early 7-0 lead with just three and a half minutes gone in the game.
The Cajuns had three more possessions in the first quarter, but failed to get a first down on any of them. After Brett Baer punted from his own 18 to the ULM 40, Browning and the Warhawks went back to work. After Browning kept for two on first down, the sophomore quarterback hit on four straight throws to move the ball to the UL 13. A run and roughing the passer call moved the ball to the four, and Jyress Edwards scored from there to give ULM a 14-0 lead with 1:48 left in the first.
The quarter was completely dominated by the Warhawks, who had 161 yards in offense to 44 for the Cajuns and eight first downs to one. The Cajuns were only 1-5 on third down.
The Cajuns finally got a break early in the second quarter. ULM moved from its own 37 to the Cajuns’ 45. Punter Aaron Munoz popped a punt nearly straight up that netted just one yard. On first down, Gautier hit Ladarius Green for 23 yards and the Cajuns were in business. The Cajuns got another first down to the ULM 22 and Gautier hit Green again for 22 yards and a touchdown.
Luther Ambrose returned the ensuing kickoff to the UL 48, but the Cajuns’ defense held and the Cajuns got the ball back at their own 31. On the first play, Gautier ran a quarterback draw for 42 yards to the ULM 27, and three plays later threw to Javone Lawson for 17 yards and another touchdown and just like that, the game was tied midway through the second quarter.
A holding call on the kickoff put ULM in a hole and the Warhawks could only get the ball out as far as the 22. A short punt and Suregent return put the ball at the Warhawks’ 43 yard line and on the first play, Gautier found a streaking Green for the touchdown which game the Cajuns a 21-14 lead.
The Cajuns forced another punt and took over at their own 21 yard line. The Cajuns moved 55 yards in eleven plays in the final 2:03 of the first half and Brett Baer’s 41 yard field goal made it a 24 point quarter and the Cajuns took a 24-14 lead into the locker room at halftime.
The Cajuns allowed only 37 yards of offense by ULM in the second quarter, while racking up 228. And, amazingly, the Cajuns scored 24 points despite having the football for only 4:47 the entire period.
The Cajuns had seized the momentum, but if ever there was a game where momentum could be fleeting, it was this one.
ULM drove 69 yards in seven plays after receiving the second half kickoff, with Browning passing for 34 yards and running for eleven. Edwards again did the honors, this time from five yards out to get ULM within three points, 24-21 with 12:15 left in the third quarter.
Neither team did much for the next couple of possessions, but ULM started a march in their final possession of the quarter, moving from their 24 to the UL 12 as the third quarter ended. Again, ULM had a big advantage in time of possession, holding the ball for 9:23. And, the Warhawks had an advantage in total yardage, 332-300.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Edwards scored again, this time on a pass from Browning covering twelve yards and the Warhawks had the lead back, 28-24.
The Cajuns failed to get a first down on their next two possessions, but the UL defense was equal to the task, keeping the Warhawks out of scoring position. But, now there was only 5:35 left to play as Louisiana took over following a Munoz punt at its own 15. Gautier threw incomplete on first down and had to leave the game after being hit hard by Troy Evans. Senior Chris Masson came in and was sacked on second down. Faced with third and 18 from the seven yard line, Masson was intercepted by Khairi Usher at the 30 yard line and returned it to the Cajuns’ 11.
Now the Warhawks were in business. Conventional wisdom said if the Cajuns were going to have a chance to win, they needed to hold the Warhawks to a field goal. But Edwards carried the ball three straight times and traversed the final three yards for his fourth touchdown of the day and with 3:08 left, ULM had a 35-24 lead.
Game over, right?
Although most of the fans stayed to see what would happen, it appeared the hope of an unbeaten season was over, and several thousand fans didn’t want to stay to see the end.
Meanwhile, on the sidelines, Hudspeth and his staff were imploring their team to not let go of the rope. They knew what it would take: a touchdown, an onside kick and a touchdown.
That’s not much of a chance. But it’s a chance.
The Cajuns got a break on the kickoff return by Brad McGuire as ULM was called for a personal foul and the Cajuns started their drive in ULM territory at the 48.
The first two plays netted only two yards, but on third and eight, Gautier, who re-entered the game, hit Harry Peoples over the middle for 23 yards to the 23 yard line. Two plays later, Gautier found Darryl Surgent for the score to make it 35-30. Now, a two point conversion and field goal could send the game into overtime. But Gautier’s two point pass was incomplete.
2:05 left. A few, that were on their way to the parking lot, stopped.
Now it was time for the onside kick. ULM used its final time out to talk about the scenarios.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Brett Baer is that he’s really good when it comes to the onside kick. Whether it’s the roly poly (when the kicker nubs the kick and recovers it himself) or the high bouncer, Baer’s good. Really good.
And, he executed it perfectly.
The ball traveled the required ten yards. It took the huge hop and Brad McGuire got a hand on it. It bounced on the ground and, as fate would have it, didn’t bounce out of bounds. Ladarius Green picked it up and returned it to the ULM 21.
Because Green wasn’t the first player to touch the ball, he, by rule, could not advance it. The ball was placed at the ULM 39.
The fans who had left the stadium heard the crowd roar. Many of them started back into Cajun Field.
Gautier hit Robert Walker with a screen pass good for twelve yards. The junior quarterback then found Lawson on the left side down to the three. And, Alonzo Harris, who had not been a factor the entire game (he finished the game with six carries for ten yards), took it in from there and the Cajuns had a 36-35 lead.
The drive took 59 seconds.
Again, the Cajuns went for two but ULM was called for interference, moving the ball to the one yard line. But Harris was stopped short and the lead stayed at one.
ULM got the ball at their 28 yard line. They had 1:08 to go and no timeouts left. A field goal would win it for the Warhawks.
On the second play from scrimmage, Browning hit Brett Leonard for 20 yards to the UL 46. Browning scrambled out of bounds for no gain on first down and threw incomplete on second down. On third down, he hit Leonard again, but he was stopped by Lionel Stokes and Bill Bentley for no gain. He didn’t get out of bounds. Now it was fourth down and the clock was running. ULM couldn’t spike the football and had trouble getting everyone lined up. The ball was snapped with :03 left and Browning couldn’t find anyone open. He ran down to the UL 33, but was forced out of bounds as time ran out.
The Cajuns had the ball less than six minutes in the fourth quarter.
ULM won the yardage battle, 456-410. They ran fourteen more offensive plays. They had the football for 36:29 compared to 23:31 for the Cajuns. The Cajuns had the game’s only turnover.
But despite all of those statistics, the Cajuns had win #8 on the season, a most unlikely 36-35 victory when it looked like all was lost.
“Don’t let do of the rope” never meant so much.
And, for the fans who were there, it was a lesson that would come in handy six weeks later.