Remembering Twenty Years Ago Today
Over the years that I've been part of the broadcasts of Ragin' Cajuns sports, I've been blamed, mostly by friends, jokingly, of being the reason the Cajuns have lost games.
Well, at least I think they were joking.
But, as far as I know, there's only been one game the Cajuns have ever played where the broadcaster was an integral part of a victory.
And, it happened twenty years ago today.
There was an incredible amount of excitement as the 1996 season began, for several reasons. First, the Cajuns were coming off three straight winning seasons, including two co-Big West Conference championships. The Cajuns, going back to independent status for the '96 season, had senior quarterback Jake Delhomme, a senior running back in Kenyon Cotton, and two outstanding receivers in senior Donald Richard and sophomore Brandon Stokley. Defensively, the Cajuns returned seven starters from the previous years' squad. And, on top of that, this was the year the Aggies were coming to town.
Only once before, when Alabama came to the Swamp in 1990, had the Cajuns hosted a team of Texas A&M's caliber and reputation. Preseason ranked in the top 15, the Aggies had dropped to #25 after a loss at BYU to open the season. The Cajuns were also 0-1, having lost at Florida 55-21 when the Gators scored four defensive touchdowns. The excitement was evident all week long as fans prepared to welcome the Aggies and their thousands of fans to Cajun Field.
Before the season, the promotions department at USL had approached my broadcast partner, Don Allen, to see if he'd be game for a little promotion. They were going to do a poster, one with Don's picture and the other with a computer-generated picture of the same, except with Don's hair removed. The poster was to read "If the Cajuns beat Texas A&M, I'll shave my head." Don agreed.
But then he had second thoughts. The promise of a shaved head for a Cajuns' victory seemed to be too negative, he said, almost like he had no faith the Cajuns could win. So, the poster was changed to "If the Cajuns LOSE to Texas A&M I'll shave my head."
Personally, I thought the boy had lost his mind.
Don and I were working our fifth season together and if there's one thing I learned traveling with him was, well, his hair was pretty important to him. I couldn't believe he would agree to shave his head if the Cajuns lost the game.
Game day proved to be as festive as everyone imagined. The tailgating was stronger than ever and Cajuns fans were the ever gracious hosts to the thousands of maroon-clad Aggies fans. And at game time, a record crowd of 38, 783 were packed into Cajun Field to see if the Cajuns could do the unthinkable.
After the first play from scrimmage, it looked like the Cajuns might be in for a long night, as Delhomme's first pass was intercepted by Donovan Greer and returned to the USL 12. After two running plays gained nothing, Tennessee transfer Brandon Stewart hit Donte Hawkins to the one yard line and D'Andre Hardeman took it in from there and the Aggies had a 7-0 lead with less than two minutes gone in the first quarter.
A&M got the ball back at their own 20 for their second possession after holding the Cajuns to one first down. The Aggies quickly moved to their own 44. But on second down, Cajuns' defensive back Damon Mason stepped in front of a Stewart pass in the flat and raced 42 yards to even the score at 7-7 with nine minutes to play in the first quarter.
The Aggies marched down the field on their next possession and moved from their 38 to the USL 27. Three Sirr Parker runs and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty were the key plays. Faced with third and three at the 27, Eric Bernard ran up the middle for a first down, but was stripped of the ball by Garrett Johnson. The ball bounded into the end zone where Britt Jackson recovered to end the threat.
The Cajuns got one first down before punting to the Texas A&M 18. And, on the first play, Randy Young hit Parker, who coughed up the ball and Charles Johnson picked it up. Johnson scampered into the end zone to give the Cajuns a 14-7 lead. The Cajuns had two defensive touchdowns in the first ten minutes of the first quarter.
And, they nearly had a third.
Kelcy Dotson picked off a Stewart pass and returned it to the end zone. The Cajuns, however, were caught holding on the return and had to start the drive from the A&M 26. Cotton gained seven yards on first down but Delhomme was sacked on third and three. Jeremy Deach missed his field goal attempt from 42 yards out and the Cajuns came away empty after the turnover. The Cajuns defense forced a three and out, but Shane Lechler boomed a 73 yard punt to the Cajuns seven yard line and USL was starting in a big hole.
The Cajuns got out of the shadow of their goal posts on a third down Delhomme pass to Mark Buford at the 21 yard line. Cotton carried for 14 and Delhomme hit Richard for 15 more to move the football out to midfield as the first quarter ended.
The Cajuns got a Cotton run and another pass to Buford for a first down at the TAMU 31. But three Cotton runs netted just eight yards and Nelson Stokely elected to eschew the field goal attempt and went for it on fourth down. Cotton responded with a four yard gain to give the Cajuns a first down at the 19 yard line. A&M was hit with an interference call to put the ball at the nine for another first down. But Delhomme was sacked for a seven yard loss and Cotton lost three more to move the ball back to the 19. On third and goal, Delhomme found Stokley for an eighteen yard gain to the one yard line and the Cajuns finished the drive on fourth down as Delhomme found tight end Cody Romero for the touchdown.
The drive was 92 yards on 17 plays and a 21-7 lead.
Texas A&M started their next drive at their own 40 and drove to the Cajuns 12, but turned it over again as Mason forced a fumble and Paul Cabble recovered at the Cajuns seven yard line. The Cajuns were faced with third and one at their own 16, but Dat Nguyen forced Cotton to fumble. Fortunately for the Cajuns, Marty Cannon recovered but the Cajuns punt gave the football to A&M at their 42. It took only four plays for the Aggies to score, with Hardeman going right up the middle for 39 yards and the touchdown. The PAT failed and the Cajuns led 21-13.
There were still a little over two and a half minutes left in the half when the Cajuns got the ball at their own 20. Freshman running back Darren Brister gained 34 yards on two carries and Delhomme found Stokley for 13 yards to move the football to the Aggies 32. Out of timeouts, Delhomme clocked the ball to stop the clock with 25 seconds left and then on the next play found Stokley again down to the 18 yard line. Stokley appeared to get out of bounds but the official ruled (incorrectly) that Stokley's forward progress was stopped and the clock ran out before the Cajuns could get the field goal team on the field. Still, the partisan Cajuns crowd went crazy as USL left the field with a 21-13 lead.
A&M had outgained the Cajuns 212-179 but turned it over five times in the first half and only held the ball for a little more than twelve minutes.
In the first quarter, it had taken Texas A&M less than two minutes to score their first touchdown.
In the third quarter, it took them two and a half.
Taking the second half kickoff, the Aggies went 65 yards in 5 plays, with Stewart keeping on an option for 46 yards the score. The two point conversion was no good, but the Aggies were within two, 21-19. By midway through the third quarter, A&M had added a field goal and taken a 22-21 lead.
The Cajuns stopped Stewart for no gain on fourth down from the A&M 47 to give the Cajuns great field position. The Cajuns managed one first down to the 32, but Deach missed his second field goal attempt of the night. Following the miss, the Aggies moved the ball to the USL 46. But Stewart was sacked on consecutive plays by Joe Evans and Cabble as the fourth quarter began.
The Cajuns were getting occasional first downs, but the vaunted A&M Wrecking Crew defense stiffened each time and Texas A&M held onto its lead. On their first possession of the fourth quarter, the Aggies were headed for what might have been a clinching score after Stewart hit Albert Connell for 33 yards to the USL 25. But on the next play, Cabble recovered his second fumble of the night for the Aggies sixth turnover to quell the threat.
Again the Cajuns couldn't move the football, however and Texas A&M got the football back midway through the fourth quarter. Stewart threw incomplete on first down and Parker gained six yards on second down. On third down, Britt Jackson stepped in front of a Stewart pass and went streaking down the far sideline for the Cajuns third defensive touchdown of the night. Delhomme hit Stokley for the two point conversion and the Cajuns had a seven point lead with 6:23 left.
The Cajuns forced a punt on the next possession and got the ball with five minutes left hoping to run out the clock. The Cajuns picked up two first downs to the Aggies 32, but stalled there as Texas A&M burned two timeouts. The Cajuns elected to go for it with barely two minutes remaining, but Delhomme threw incomplete and the Aggies had one more chance from their 35.
A&M got a fourth down conversion after getting the football back, and then Stewart hit Barry Johnson for 22 yards down to the USL 32. But two plays later, Stewart threw the football inside the Cajuns 15 yard line where Damon Mason made a diving interception at the Cajuns 14. (A later replay would show the ball was trapped, but replay wasn't used back then in college football.)
That was it.
Delhomme knelt down with the football and all hell broke loose at Cajun Field.
It was surreal to watch Delhomme running the length of the field toward the south end, waving his helmet with one hand and motioning for the fans in the south end zone to join him on the field. And, as the crowd poured onto the field, I thought this only happens to other people, not to the Cajuns.
But it did. The goalposts came down. A group tried to carry the structure away, but couldn't get it into the tunnel. So, up onto the grassy knoll it went and out of the stadium.
Public address announcer Hal Langford announced over the din, "AND DON ALLEN GETS TO KEEP HIS HAIR!!!"
And, that's when I knew that Don had won the game for the Cajuns with his decision to shave his head if the Cajuns had lost.
Because I saw the computer generated poster.
And, trust me, neither God nor anyone else wanted to see a bald Don Allen.