LAFAYETTE — Daylong rain held down the crowd at Cajun Field, but that shouldn’t have dampened the enthusiasm surrounding the Louisiana-Lafayette football program.
The Ragin’ Cajuns were hoping a record crowd would show up Saturday to see the preseason pick to win the Sun Belt Conference open the season against defending Southwestern Athletic Conference champion Southern. A nice but not sellout crowd of 36,170 entered the stadium amid steady rain and endured sporadic showers during UL-Lafayette’s 45-6 victory.
They saw Terrance Broadway throw two touchdown passes to help build a 24-0 lead and finish 20-of-32 for 237 yards and three touchdowns. The only blemish on his stat sheet was a pair of interceptions, which were a rare bright spot for Southern as they were made by true freshmen — Bryan Anderson of Edna Karr and Danny Johnson of East Feliciana.
The third-largest crowd in UL-Lafayette history saw running backs Alonzo Harris and Elijah McGuire and receiver Jamal Robinson demonstrate why they were preseason all-conference first-team picks.
It saw the Cajuns defense mostly contain the Southern offense and keep the five-touchdown underdog at arm’s length before pulling away.
It’s way too early to tell whether the Cajuns will be headed to a bowl game for a fourth consecutive season, but they did nothing Saturday to suggest they aren’t deserving of lofty preseason expectations. They host Louisiana Tech next Saturday.
“There are always a lot of things that go into playing the first game of the year,” UL-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth said, “but add in playing in a drizzling rain and the threat of thunderstorms, I thought our guys played well. All in all, I thought it was a pretty clean game. I thought we played well on both sides of the ball and the kicking game was sound. I thought it was a good game to build on, but we will have to be much better in the future.”
As for the Jaguars, the rainy day was a downer before they even made the one-hour bus ride from Baton Rouge. Five starters had to stay behind because the university wasn’t satisfied with their academic certification.
Southern didn’t arrive until 45 minutes before kickoff as university officials tried unsuccessfully to certify players.
“We got here late, and we all did our best to focus,” coach Dawson Odums said. “We encountered a tough deal today. I wouldn’t wish it on any coaches or team. But at the end of the day, I think they handled it with class. This isn’t about pointing fingers; it’s about finding solutions to problems. We’re going to try and have a better team next week.”
Whether any of the players who were held out will be available when Southern plays its home opener against NAIA school Central Methodist next Saturday remains to be seen.
The quarterback position was unaffected by the certification issues but might be in for some modification anyway.
Redshirt freshman Deonte Shorts’ debut was forgettable, but true freshman Austin Howard’s was intriguing. Shorts completed 2 of 9 passes for 21 yards, and Howard was 18-of-31 for 181 yards. Willie Quinn caught eight passes for 105 yards.
Howard brought some life to Southern when he directed an 80-yard drive that ended with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Bradley Coleman, cutting the deficit to 24-6 midway through the third. He played the rest of the way.
“He has a live arm,” Odums said. “He has a great arm, and he played well for being a true freshman. He moved the ball when he was in there, and we just went with him. It’s nothing against Shorts, but we had a little more consistency when Howard was in there.”
It didn’t take UL-Lafayette long to negate Southern’s touchdown: Broadway ended the ensuing possession by throwing a 7-yard touchdown pass to Robinson. Broadway’s 8-yard touchdown run and backup quarterback Brooks Haack’s 2-yard TD pass to Larry Pettis completed the scoring in the fourth quarter.
Anderson, starting in place of one of the uncertified starters (Renaldo Thomas), gave the Jaguars an early opportunity when he intercepted Broadway’s first pass of the game at the Southern 41.
But the Jaguars couldn’t move the ball, and the Cajuns drove to Hunter Stover’s 31-yard field goal. UL-Lafayette’s next possession ended with McGuire running 8 yards for a touchdown and a 10-0 lead after one quarter. McGuire finished with 129 yards on 13 carries; the Cajuns ran for 248 yards on 41 carries.
“We knew they were going to run the ball,” Southern linebacker Demetrius Carter said. “They have some good backs, and they have a very quarterback who likes to run and can throw the ball when necessary.”
Broadway showed that as the Cajuns’ first two possessions of the second quarter ended with him throwing touchdown passes — 32 yards to Robinson and 13 to Jared Johnson.