After his team won the New Orleans Bowl for the third consecutive season, Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth admitted Saturday night that he would prefer an easier path to the postgame celebration.
After beating San Diego State on a field goal as time ran out in 2011 and getting a key interception late in the fourth quarter with a three-point lead on East Carolina in 2012, the Ragin’ Cajuns (9-4) blew a 21-0 advantage against Tulane at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome before winning 24-21.
This time, they weren’t assured of the victory until the Green Wave’s Cairo Santos missed a 48-yard field goal with 9 seconds left.
“As much as I love (this bowl), it’s going to give me a heart attack coming here,” Hudspeth said. “It seems like, every year, this game comes down to this type of ending. Our guys follow one of our core values, and that’s ‘find a way.’ ”
With starting quarterback Terrance Broadway compromised by a broken right (throwing) forearm, Hudspeth stressed that every one of his teammates needed to pick up his game. That’s what happened, even though Broadway played most of the way before leaving with cramps in the fourth quarter.
“I hadn’t participated in any activities since I got hurt,” Broadway said. “I was just a little out of shape, but I didn’t hurt my arm again, and that’s a blessing.”
UL-Lafayette overcame two Broadway interceptions, including an inexplicable flip right to defensive back Derrick Strozier that set up Tulane’s tying touchdown, by picking off three passes of their own. One of them turned into an 82-yard touchdown return from cornerback Corey Trim, and the last one set up Hunter Stover’s chip-shot field goal for the winning points.
“Our guys have overcome some adversity,” Hudspeth said. “Our defense played outstanding — they were probably responsible for 10 points. ... When they lost the momentum, they kept fighting and found a way to get the momentum back.”
Tulane running back Orleans Darkwa became the first player from a losing team to be named MVP of the bowl, but UL-Lafayette received key contributions from several players.
Safety Sean McDonald had two interceptions. Jalen Nixon picked up some pivotal first downs after relieving Broadway. Running back Elijah McGuire broke three tackles on an early reception, then raced to the end zone for a 27-yard score on the next play as the Ragin’ Cajuns went ahead 7-0.
Once Tulane solved UL-Lafayette’s offense, Trim took matters into his own hands with his pick-six, stepping in front of a short sideline pass from Tulane’s Nick Montana.
“We preached turnovers the last two games (with Broadway out),” Trim said. “We knew we had to help our offense out a lot tonight.”
Hudspeth praised Broadway’s presence rather than his playmaking. After rolling up 143 yards in the first quarter, UL-Lafayette managed just 182 more the rest of the way.
“He knows he wasn’t 100 percent, but we felt like he was ready enough to give us a chance to win,” Hudspeth said. “Having him on the field gave us leadership and gave our team confidence, and he did just enough tonight to help our team win.”
Tulane coach Curtis Johnson lamented a slow start that put the Green Wave (7-6) in a 21-point hole but lauded his players’ effort to come back.
He also did not regret his decision to try the final field goal on third down with 11 seconds left instead of taking a chance on another play after quarterback Devin Powell was sacked on second down. Armed with a contract extension and a pay raise, he preferred talking about Tulane’s breakthrough seven-win season, not its 1-4 finish.
“(Setting a tone) is what we’ve definitely done,” he said. “I think we’ll go up, up and up. These guys did phenomenal.”