LAS CRUCES, N.M. — Although he’s usually the last player a football fan hopes to see, it’s not always a sign of failure when the punter takes the field.
Louisiana-Lafayette fourth-down specialist Daniel Cadona dispelled that myth Saturday night at New Mexico State. And while the 6-foot-4, 218-pounder’s booming boots never directly put any points on the board, his consistent flipping of field position kept his teammates’ backs far enough from their own end zone. The combination worked well enough, as the Ragin’ Cajuns offense put 44 points on the board — plenty good enough for them to leave with a perfect 5-0 record in Sun Belt Conference play.
It was a bit of a bounceback effort for the Ray Guy Award nominee, who averaged 44.3 yards per kick before an atypically poor four-punt, 32.2-yard effort in last week’s home win over South Alabama. On his four successful punts Saturday, Cadona had a 47.2 average.
The UL-Lafayette offense was equally sharp early Saturday, knocking out a 15-play, 75-yard scoring drive on its first possession. But the unit bogged down for a large chunk of the first half thereafter.
That was, until Cadona hung up a 49-yard beauty that bounced and checked up at the NMSU 7-yard line. After a conservative Aggies offense went three-and-out, UL-Lafayette had its best field position of the night, in enemy territory at the 42-yard line. And with the end zone already clearly in sight, quarterback Terrence Broadway found receiver James Butler on a 32-yard crossing route on the first play of the drive. Two snaps later, the Cajuns scored again to take a 14-3 lead.
“Pretty much, I’d like to have all my punts land inside the 10,” said Cadona, an Australian native. “I mean, give them the longest field possible.”
Said Broadway: “We look at the play-calling totally differently (with good field position). The offensive coordinator tells me we might get in a four-down situation when we get on that side of the 50.”
Cadona struck once more to help his club take a 21-3 halftime edge. A 53-yard kick deep out of his own end drove the Aggies back to their own 33. UL-Lafayette then retook possession just shy of its own 30 — and with better field position, Broadway led a 71-yard drive that Effrem Reed finished off from 2 yards out with just 44 seconds left in the half.
“I was really happy with my drops and the way my foot was striking the ball tonight,” Cadona said. “So it was a nice turnaround from last week.”
Said Broadway: “(He) really helped us out tonight, pinning them deep. We’re just happy to have him.”
Not all went well for Cadona. With the route already on, he had a punt blocked late in the third quarter. But NMSU kicker Max Johnson missed the ensuing 32-yard field goal attempt wide left to preserve a 30-9 lead.
“Little disappointed to have that punt blocked,” Cadona said. “First one in my career, so hopefully first and last.”
Later, Cadona dropped a seeing-eye 48-yarder out of bounds at the Aggies 1. A few snaps later, Tracy Walker’s interception return gave the set up the Cajuns at NMSU’s 13. Jared Johnson’s 9-yard catch on a fade route finished off the rout.
“(Cadona) really had some nice punts,” coach Mark Hudspeth said. “Pinned them deep on the pooch punts; a punt out on the 1-yard line. ... We had some problems in protection, but not by him. He was really good.”