MOBILE, Ala. — Yet another dramatic fourth quarter rally fell short for Louisiana-Lafayette.
This time, the Cajuns (4-5, 3-2 Sun Belt) had the lead and were gunning for more when it backfired in a 32-25 road loss to South Alabama (5-4, 3-2).
Leading 25-24, quarterback Brooks Haack’s career day was marred by one bad play late in the fourth quarter when he telegraphed a pass to receiver Gabe Fuselier deep in his own territory. The pass was intercepted by senior defensive back E.J. May, and two plays later running back Xavier Johnson took it in for a 16-yard go-ahead score.
A two-point conversion made it a seven-point game.
The Cajuns had no more magic in them after already rallying back from a nine-point deficit earlier.
A trick-play touchdown pass from South Alabama in the fourth quarter looked like it might put a possible comeback out of reach based on the way the Cajuns offense had performed for the majority of the game.
On third-and-goal from the 7, South Alabama tight end Gerald Everett took an end-around pitch out of the Wildcat formation and deked like he was going to run upfield, but he had to repay his quarterback for an earlier touchdown.
The Cajuns secondary lost track of South Alabama quarterback Cody Clements, and Everett lobbed an easy pass to him in the back of the end zone to put the Jaguars ahead 24-13 with 12:51 to go.
That’s when the zombie Cajuns of the last two weeks showed up again. Haack, who threw for a career-high 270 yards, kept firing for Jamal Robinson, who caught a career-high 10 passes for a career-high 188 yards.
They connected three times for 90 yards on the drive after Everett’s touchdown pass to Clements. The last one was a thing of beauty, a 45-yard rainbow down the sidelines that Robinson hauled in to cut the deficit to five after a failed two-point conversion.
Then the Cajuns cashed in on a little luck. Driving in Cajuns territory, Clements tried to throw a ball away as Darzil Washington was dragging him down. The ball didn’t have enough juice to wobble out of bounds, and instead fluttered right into Savion Brown’s arms.
Brown caught it and raced 85 yards untouched into the end zone to give the Cajuns a 25-24 lead, their first lead since the eight minute mark of the first quarter.
But the lead was short-lived, and so was the excitement. Haack’s interception came on the next possession, and the Cajuns turned the ball over on downs on their final possession of the game.
The Cajuns encountered some familiar problems Thursday night in the form of a sluggish first half and a poor performance defensively on third downs.
It looked like the Cajuns might finally get off to the roaring start they’ve been looking for all season when they held South Alabama to a three and out on the first series of the game then marched 44 yards in six plays to take a 6-0 lead with 11:18 to go in the first quarter.
But that would be where the fun would end in the first half for the Cajuns.
The Jaguars scored the final 17 points of the first half, marking the sixth time this season the Cajuns have trailed at halftime, and the fifth time they’ve trailed by a double-digit margin.
Offensively, the Cajuns moved the ball at times but kept shooting themselves in the foot. They had back-to-back false starts on the point after the first score, pushing it back to be a 29-yard attempt. Stevie Artigue’s attempt was blocked.
Later in the half, the Cajuns had a promising drive deep into South Alabama territory. But a false start turned 2nd and 5 into 2nd and 10, and after a pass for no gain, Haack was sacked for an 11-yard loss to turn a makeable field goal into a 51-yard long shot. Artigue’s attempt fell well short of the cross bar.
Defensively, the problems again centered on poor tackling and general inability to come up with a stop on third downs.
On its three scoring drives, South Alabama converted seven out of its eight third down attempts, including four on a 13-play, 89-yard touchdown drive to close the first half.
South Alabama quarterback Cody Clements picked on Cajuns cornerback Savion Brown mercilessly on that drive. He targeted backup wide receiver Marvin Shinn — guarded by Brown — four times on third down on that drive, and those four targets resulted in four first down conversions.
The last conversion came on a 3rd and 8, when Brown got tangled up with Shinn on a deep route down the sideline. Referees called him for pass interference, and Clement found Garrett in the end zone on the next play.