LAFAYETTE — Brooks Haack’s performance off the bench in UL-Lafayette’s 30-24 win over UL-Monroe Saturday was the top headline-grabber.
But it’s possible that the Ragin’ Cajuns’ special teams were even more critical to their victory. The Cajuns got three field goals from their true freshman kicker; a huge blocked punt in the fourth quarter that led to a touchdown; and a 37-yard punt return in the fourth quarter that setup a field-goal try.
“We couldn’t finish some drives in the first half, and special teams kept us in the game,” Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth said. “We have needed some big plays from our special teams, and it’s a big advantage when we get them.”
Those drives in the first half — three of them, to be exact — should have led to 21 points, Hudspeth said, but all three drives stalled and ended in field-goal tries. Amid a heavy downpour, freshman kicker Stevie Artigue nailed all three of his first-half kicks.
After a big 37-yard punt return from Elijah McGuire late in the fourth quarter, Artigue couldn’t connect from 37 yards out — but Hudspeth said he knows Artigue will connect on those high-pressure kicks as he develops.
“He’s a true freshman,” Hudspeth said. “He made three in a row and I would have bet the farm he would have made the last one. He kept us in that ballgame, and he’ll make those late kicks for us as his career continues to evolve.”
The Cajuns got another special-teams contribution from another freshman in Chaiziere Malbrue, who busted through the line on a punt block that gave the Cajuns possession at the Warhawks’ 16-yard line. The drive ended in a Haack rushing touchdown from 13 yards out.
“It was an all-out block,” Hudspeth said. “We rushed seven right at the point of attack. We got three up there on their protectors and Malbrue has long arms. He split them and got through there.”
Hudspeth said the block allowed McGuire to have open space for the next return.
“The next one was the one we faked it,” Hudspeth said. “All their guys rushed thinking we were blocking and we held up the whole team. That allowed Elijah to get the great return.”
Hudspeth pointed to several special-teams breaks that the Cajuns didn’t get in the first half as reason for the slow start. The Cajuns capitalized on some breaks in the second half, and Hudspeth even commended Cajuns punter Steven Coutts, who averaged 40.8 yards per punt, as a crucial part of the victory.
“Coutts had a big night,” Hudspeth said. “He had the one shank, but the play before he hit a 60-yarder that was called back. He flipped the field numerous times.
“We just got no breaks in the first half. The kickoff bounces off of (Jeryl Brazil), and we get it at the 3. They drop a punt, and we don’t get on it. In the second half, we got some of those breaks, and it made a big difference.”