NEW ORLEANS — He still considers Lafayette too far from home.
But in the final quarter of his collegiate career, Louisiana-Lafayette cornerback Jermarlous Moten gave Ragin’ Cajuns fans something to remember him by: two key plays to preserve his team’s 43-34 New Orleans Bowl victory against East Carolina.
“It’s a seven-hour drive, and I can’t always get back there when something happens,” said Moten, a native of Leland, Miss., by way of Mississippi Delta Community College. “That’s made it a roller-coaster ride for me here sometimes. But it’s been two good years for me here. I’m always going to come back and visit.”
Chances are he’ll be welcomed — especially after Saturday’s heroics — even though Moten already was a first-team all-Sun Belt selection.
With his team clinging to a 37-34 lead, Moten intercepted ECU quarterback Shane Carden at the ULL 8-yard to negate an ECU interception two plays earlier. And his third-down breakup on the Pirates’ next drive forced a punt that led to a time-draining ULL drive that ended with a field goal.
“We’d lost the momentum, and we needed it back,” Moten said of his interception. “They’d been beating us on that route, too, because we didn’t have a safety back there. They sort of baited me, and I just jumped the ball. I don’t think he really saw me.”
It was still 37-34 when ECU faced third-and-3 from its 35 midway through the period. Crowd noise led the Pirates to call a timeout. After the break, Carden appeared to check off at least once.
He threw to the left flat for Andrew Bodenheimer, ECU’s top receiver on the day (five catches for 65 yards). Bodenheimer has 4 inches and 28 pounds on Moten, who’s listed at 5-foot-11 and 175, but Moten made a perfect read and cut in front of Bodenheimer to knock the ball down.
“You’d always like to have the pick, but I was glad just to get a hand in there,” Moten said.
Those two plays, free safety Rodney Gillis said, are typical of the way Moten has performed at ULL.
“Big-time players make big-time plays,” Gillis said. “J-Mo loves to be under pressure. The pressure was on us, and he shut them down.”
ULL secondary coach Tim Rebowe agreed.
“It was a real cat-and-mouse there on that third-down play,” he said. “We showed blitz but really thought they might call a run. That’s when you really need a guy like J-Mo out there.”
Rebowe pointed out another important play for which Moten got no statistical credit. With ULL leading 40-34 and 2:34 left, the Pirates faced fourth-and-5 from their 30. Carden wanted to go to Justin Hardy, the team’s all-Conference USA receiver.
But Moten had Hardy covered one-on-one, and Carden wound up having to scramble before throwing out of bounds intended for Bodenheimer on the other side of the field.
“J-Mo made them go where they didn’t want to go,” Rebowe said. “That was as big as making the play on the ball.”
There was one play Moten wished he had made. Late in the third quarter, the Pirates switched things up with Hardy throwing back to Carden from the ECU 33. Moten was in position to make the pick, but he mistimed his jump, and the poorly thrown ball went between his arms.
“I should have had it.” Moten said. “But (Carden) didn’t put it in there too well, and I should have waited to go up. It’s still good when they try a play like that and you can mess it up.”
And it was still a good day for Moten, who had six tackles along with his pass defending heroics. And they were a good two years at ULL, which Moten confessed he knew nothing about until he was recruited by coach Mark Hudspeth.
“Coach Hud’s from Mississippi, and that’s why I came here,” he said. “I figured with the new coaches, I’d get an opportunity. But the fans always have your back, and I love it here now. It’s my second home.”