MONROE — The bend-but-don’t-break defense that the Louisiana-Lafayette football team has used so effectively at times this season turned in yet another signature performance in a 34-27 win against Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday night.
Despite giving up huge chunks of yards at points, the Ragin’ Cajuns (7-3, 6-0) turned on the heat when it mattered defensively. They forced three turnovers and sacked ULM’s Pete Thomas six times in the second half, lifting the Cajuns to their sixth consecutive win.
“We felt like we missed some opportunities to bring some pressure,” coach Mark Hudspeth said. “We dialed up a few more in the second half and got to the quarterback.”
After running up and down the field in the first half, the Cajuns struggled to find their footing early in the second against a Warhawks defense that had started to wise up to the Cajuns’ option-heavy attack. But the Cajuns made some defensive adjustments of their own.
Thomas connected on a big pass play on the second play of the third quarter to move ULM deep into Cajuns territory. But once ULM got inside the red zone, the Cajuns pass rush woke up.
Senior Christian Ringo dropped Thomas for his 10th sack of the season on first down, then combined with fellow senior Justin Hamilton for a sack on second down to force the Warhawks into third-and-21.
That’s when Jake Molbert screamed around the edge for the Cajuns’ third straight sack, except Molbert one-upped the senior defensive linemen by stripping Thomas in the process. The Cajuns recovered and kept the Warhawks off the scoreboard.
“It turned into a one-dimensional game for us,” Molbert said. “It was just pin your ears back and go, hit him before he could get the ball off.”
Molbert was at it again in the fourth quarter when, on a ULM punt, the snap to punter Justin Manton went low and he couldn’t handle it. When Manton recovered, he was lit up by Molbert, who forced a fumble that the Cajuns recovered deep in ULM territory.
“I was expecting a fake or something, and then I saw him bobbling the snap. Once I saw, I took off and hit him,” Molbert said. “I was just glad we recovered the ball. I know it was fourth down anyway, but it was at a huge point in the game and we gave our offense great field position.”
Quarterback Terrance Broadway ran it in for a 12-yard touchdown a few plays later to give the Cajuns a 27-13 lead.
But the Warhawks wouldn’t go away. They scored two touchdowns in the game’s final seven minutes, and they had a chance to tie things late.
After forcing the Cajuns into a quick three-and-out, they got the ball back at their own 21-yard line with 1:18 left.
But the Cajuns’ pressure got the job done again. Hamilton wrapped up Thomas for a sack that set the Warhawks back 9 yards on first down, and on third-and-long, the Cajuns forced and recovered a fumble to preserve their sixth straight win.
The Cajuns were pounding the ground game early. The Cajuns ran the ball on 18 of their first 21 plays, including eight straight to start the game.
“We felt like we could get the option going, and we did in the first half with Terrance running the football,” Hudspeth said. “Once it started really working, we stayed with it a little bit. Sometimes that’s what you do as coaches if something’s working. Sometimes you get away from things too fast, and I thought we did a good job staying with it until they made some adjustments.”
The strategy worked. The Cajuns rolled to 196 first-quarter yards — 120 of which came on the ground — as they jumped to a 17-7 lead on the Warhawks.
The Cajuns hammered away at the Warhawks defense, sucked it in, then would call a perfectly timed pass and drop it over the ULM defenders’ heads for a big gain.
Broadway threw only three passes on the Cajuns’ first three drives, but they went for gains of 21, 39 and 16 yards, the last of which was a shovel pass to Al Riles that went 16 yards for the Cajuns’ last score of the first quarter.
The Warhawks quickly realized that, in order to match the Cajuns’ offensive output, they were going to have to be similarly one-dimensional. After getting stuffed for a loss of 6 yards on four first-quarter rush attempts, ULM abandoned its ground attack entirely.
Thomas completed 21 of his 30 first-half passes for 254 yards, one of which went for a 5-yard touchdown to Kenzee Jackson.
The only official rushing attempt of the second quarter came on a Ringo sack.
Thomas finished with a career-high 472 passing yards.