LAFAYETTE — It wasn’t clear whether Louisiana-Lafayette linebacker Otha Peters misspoke or not, but the words held meaning either way.
“We have nothing to lose,” Peters said. “We have everything to lose.”
He issued both thoughts back-to-back, not a pause between them. Normally, they’re two completely contradicting statements, but in this case they seem to encapsulate everything perfectly.
The Cajuns, in a way, have nothing to lose going into a game as heavy underdogs against Appalachian State on the road. Their season hasn’t gone to plan to this point, so why not hang it all out on the line?
Of course, a loss in this game means everything’s lost as well. A loss would guarantee the first losing season in coach Mark Hudspeth’s five-year tenure. A loss would extinguish any chances at playing in a bowl game.
The Cajuns have nothing to lose.
The Cajuns have everything to lose. Especially the senior class, which is suddenly on the cusp of playing its final games in a Cajuns uniform.
“It’s starting to sink in,” receiver Jamal Robinson said.
Octravian Anderson is in his fifth season as a Ragin’ Cajun. He’s never been a part of a team that didn’t wind up as a bowl champion, not as a redshirt player on the scout team, not as a reserve and not in his two-plus years as the starting right tackle.
He made that known to the rest of his teammates Monday at a players-only meeting.
“I broke it down for the younger guys and some of the guys who haven’t been here as long who don’t know the Cajun Way — which is winning,” Anderson said. “I kind of informed everybody and let everybody know that failure is not an option.
“We’re going to rally together these next two weeks, and we’re going to play some of the best ball we’ve ever played in our lives. Everybody. From the scout team guys to the starters.”
Robinson sat there listening to Anderson and let that sink in as well. The senior, who was gifted a year of college football he didn’t think he’d have, has nothing to lose by maxing out his body for at least 120 more minutes. He and his teammates have everything to lose if they don’t.
“Try hard, do whatever we’ve got to do, whatever it takes to win these last two games so we could try to get a third game, end the season out right with more wins than losses,” Robinson said.
Like Anderson and Robinson, Dominique Tovell has never known a losing season as a collegian. He redshirted in his true freshman season in 2011 and has developed over the years into the Cajuns’ most dependable defender.
Being 4-6 at this juncture is like he’s landed in a foreign land, except he’s not planning on learning the customs of this strange new place. Even with his team on the brink of being eliminated from postseason contention, he’s still clinging to the last chance the Cajuns have left by approaching it the way he always has — keep playing.
“We let stuff get away early, but we can still gain a lot at the same time,” Tovell said. “We’ve just got to keep playing and let it go from there.”
Standing directly in their way is an Appalachian State team that has, for the most part, dominated conference foes this season. The Cajuns are nearly three touchdown underdogs on the road, and while it’s admirable, a little extra grit and determination might not cover that spread.
Regardless, the senior class is taking it on itself to make sure that part of the game is there. It hasn’t known any other way in the rest of its time. With their backs firmly against the ropes, the Cajuns seniors are trying to will their teammates forward.
“Guys got to understand that it’s important to win at this university,” Anderson said. “That’s what we’re known for.”
What the Cajuns seniors don’t want to be known for was the group that didn’t win. They have everything and nothing to lose this weekend.