Cajuns take extra day to savor strong season

Louisiana Lafayette quarterback Blaine Gautier (17) holds his side as he runs in a first-quarter touchdown against Troy at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Troy, Ala. on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012. (AP photo/Montgomery Advertiser, Mickey Welsh) NO SALES
Louisiana Lafayette quarterback Blaine Gautier (17) holds his side as he runs in a first-quarter touchdown against Troy at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Troy, Ala. on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012. (AP photo/Montgomery Advertiser, Mickey Welsh) NO SALES

LAFAYETTE — The 24-hour postgame celebration rule for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette football team has been extended another day.

ULL coach Mark Hudspeth said he wants some extra time to savor the end of the Cajuns’ regular season and then launch preparations for a Dec. 22 R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl game against East Carolina.

The Cajuns finished 8-4 overall and 6-2 in the Sun Belt Conference after ULL’s 35-21 win Saturday over Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton, Fla.

Hudspeth normally gives his team and staff about 24 hours to forget about the Cajuns’ previous game, but the situation was different after the FAU game, he said.

“Heck, I think we’re going to enjoy this win for two days. Our kids have to get ready for (fall semester final exams) this week. We’ll work out a little bit during this week and then begin working heavily this week to prepare for East Carolina,” Hudspeth said.

ULL’s win over FAU (3-9, 2-6) put the Cajuns into a second-place tie with the University of Louisiana at Monroe and Middle Tennessee.

Under Hudspeth, the Cajuns (17-8) have more wins in consecutive seasons than any other team in school history. The Cajuns were 15-6 in 1976-77 under Augie Tammariello, but the Cajuns forfeited several of the 1976 wins after it was determined ULL (then USL) allowed an ineligible player to participate in several games.

East Carolina (8-4, 7-1) was assigned to the New Orleans Bowl by Conference USA after Tulsa defeated Central Florida in the conference championship game Saturday.

“Representing East Carolina in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl is an honor, one our players and coaching staff are certainly looking forward to,” East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeil said in a statement.

The New Orleans Bowl game is the sixth bowl appearance for ECU in the past seven seasons.

“This game is one our coaches and players are looking forward to. I expect this experience to provide us with many wonderful memories, especially our seniors, (who) have offered this program quality leadership throughout their careers,” McNeill said.

Under McNeill, the Pirates have run a spread offense that features running back Vintavous Cooper (1,030 rushing yards) and quarterback Shane Carden (2,838 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and 66.8 percent completion rate).

Against FAU, the Cajuns endured a shaky defensive start to score 21 straight points and seal the victory.

ULL scored touchdowns off three FAU turnovers. The Cajuns also did not commit a turnover, while rushing 50 times for 284 yards and a 5.7 average.

Running back Alonzo Harris gained 127 on 21 attempts and three touchdowns. Quarterback Terrance Broadway rushed for 123 yards on 15 carries. Broadway scored on a 77-yard run on the game’s third play.

Hudspeth said the idea was to run against the FAU secondary he considered one of the best in the conference.

“We felt like we could run the ball and try to get the ball out of their hands. We were able to get some good push and start playing with better tempo (rushing) and get (FAU) on their heels a little bit, so we stayed with it.

“I think we tipped the game in our favor in the second quarter with our running game. We got them tired, and they couldn’t recover,” Hudspeth said.

The Owls led 14-7 at the end of the first quarter after the Cajuns made some mistakes in the secondary, Hudspeth said.

“(The Owls) were making way too many big plays on the back end. We needed to do a better job of keeping them bottled up and make the necessary adjustment,” he said.

One of the biggest defensive plays came early in the fourth quarter when ULL linebacker Justin Anderson recovered a fumble at the Cajuns’ 34.

Florida Atlantic had scored with 13:16 left to cut the lead to 28-21.

Harris ended a 66-yard drive with a 2-yard run with 7:06 left after the turnover. ULL’s defense then stopped FAU on fourth down at the Cajuns’ 16 with 4:48 left.

“That turnover at the end was critical, and then we got the defensive stop. Those were big plays,” Hudspeth said.