LAFAYETTE — All during that rough 1-3 stretch at the beginning of the season, when seemingly every loose ball found its way to opponents’ hands, Louisiana-Lafayette football coach Mark Hudspeth said that, some day, the ball was going to bounce the Ragin’ Cajuns’ way.
Saturday was that day.
South Alabama trailed by three points but looked poised to take the lead, facing third-and-goal from the 2-yard line. But backup quarterback Matt Floyd, who entered the game for Brian Bridge in the third quarter after an injury, fumbled the snap, and Cajuns defensive lineman Christian Ringo fell on top of it after a brief scrum.
“We were just waiting on that first man to strike that match,” Ringo said. “Once it strikes, it’s hard to put that fire out.”
Maybe that explains what happened next. The Cajuns floored it down the field, going 91 yards in six plays and taking a 19-9 lead on an 8-yard touchdown run by Elijah McGuire. It was the only touchdown of the game for the Cajuns (5-3, 4-0), and it provided the final margin.
McGuire finished with 116 rushing yards and an additional 90 yards through the air. Of McGuire’s 206 total yards, 128 came in the final quarter.
It wasn’t the best offensive performance for the Cajuns, who had trouble finding ways to attack a gap-sound South Alabama defense. But the Cajuns got things going in the second half as they started catching the right balance between the pass and run games.
Quarterback Terrance Broadway was efficient in the second half, connecting on 7 of 11 passes for 127 yards, including a pair of long passes on the Cajuns’ touchdown drive in the fourth quarter that covered 71 yards.
On a day when they weren’t firing on all cylinders, the Cajuns still put up 412 yards offensively. And while it wasn’t the prettiest performance of the year, it was just as satisfying for Hudspeth.
“This is a game where you find out a lot about your football team,” he said. “A tough game. Great goal-line stand right there at the end. … Just the entire game, the way the game went back and forth, jockeying for field position — it was good to see our guys play tough and physical, fight toe-to-toe. I’m really proud.”
The Cajuns looked like they weren’t going to miss a beat from last week’s game, when they racked up 55 points and more than 500 yards of total offense against Arkansas State. They won the opening toss and elected to receive, as they did in their previous two games, and it paid off.
Broadway carried the ball for 15 yards on the first play of the game and then, on a third-and-28 that was set up by an illegal forward pass, hit Devin Scott for a 45-yard gain that gave the Cajuns first-and-goal from the South Alabama 10-yard line.
But the Cajuns’ drive stalled there, leading to a chip-shot field goal by Hunter Stover.
That was the story of the first three quarters for a Cajuns squad that moved the ball at times but couldn’t sustain much continued success and couldn’t find the end zone against a formidable South Alabama front.
“We struggled a little bit to put some things together, especially when we got in the red zone early,” Hudspeth said. “We just didn’t punch it in like we normally do.”
South Alabama had two golden opportunities inside the Cajuns’ 10-yard line, but it was the Cajuns’ turn to stiffen on defense.
The Cajuns stuffed a South Alabama attempt on third-and-goal, but the Jaguars got new life when linebacker T.J. Worthy was called for roughing the passer. But even given a new set of downs from the 4-yard line, the Jaguars couldn’t find a way to get into the end zone and had to settle for a field goal.
“We made ’em earn stuff,” Hudspeth said. “They had to fight for every inch.”
The only touchdown in the first half came when the Jaguars’ Bridge lofted a pass to a wide-open Jeremé Jones in the corner of the end zone for a 12-yard score.
That was the last time the Jaguars would score against the Cajuns. The Cajuns limited the Jaguars to just 150 yards in the second half while pitching a shutout.
“I’m proud of my guys,” Ringo said. “They played hard tonight, especially in the second half, putting that goose egg up. That was critical.”