LAFAYETTE — The could-be dream season started with a few bumps in the road.
At the end of the night? Well, everything turned out as good as it could have. But for a minute there, I was getting ready for disaster.
It started when I woke up to the sound of rain Saturday morning, rain that continued as I sloshed through a run around my neighborhood, then drove to the stadium. The day everybody has been looking forward to since the Cajuns won their third consecutive R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl was about as nasty as they come.
The football gods may smite me as I write this column, but nobody truly wanted “football weather” Saturday at Cajun Field. It was supposed to be a day for celebration, a day a record number of people did everything they could to pack into a newly-renovated Cajun Field and watch their team take the first step toward history.
Instead, it was miserable. I hoped to find a jubilant crowd ushering in football season waiting for me when I arrived. Rather, my lasting image from pre-game is a man sitting in a chair in the parking lot outside the stadium, alone, umbrella over his head, staring out into space.
Well, if that wasn’t depressing enough, there were the first two Ragin’ Cajuns drives.
Even superhero quarterback Terrance Broadway isn’t immune to mistakes. On his first pass attempt of the season, he took the snap, rolled right, locked in on his favorite target and let it fly.
Jaguars freshman safety Bryan Anderson taught the old dog a new lesson: Don’t stare receivers down. Anderson switched off the route and jumped in the flat to creep back into the passing lane. When Broadway fired, Anderson made the easy interception.
“He made a hell of a play,” Broadway said.
The Cajuns looked like they were back to operating at their normal high level on the ensuing drive. They marched down the field like the well calibrated machine they’re supposed to be, setting up shop for a third-and-1 from the Southern 10-yard line.
Then senior running back Alonzo Harris was called for a false start. Then redshirt freshman Matt Barnes dropped an easy catch on third-and-6 with nothing but green grass in front of him, bringing the field-goal unit on for a chip-shot.
Those aren’t the type of mistakes good teams are supposed to make, and it’s certainly not the way people expected the defending Sun Belt Conference champs to come out in their season opener.
Those also aren’t the type of mistakes that were going to derail the Cajuns.
“You make a mistake early, and it’s the first drive of the season, and it’s really easy to panic and start pressing and try to score too fast,” Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth said. “We just wanted to stay patient.
“We knew it would come.”
They were right.
The inauspicious start and the rainy weather were not nearly enough to keep the Cajuns down. They roared back to life and dominated the game like they were supposed to.
Broadway’s first pass attempt might have been one he wished he could have back, but most of the rest were up to his usual standard of excellence. The senior carved up his hometown team with 237 yards and three touchdowns through the air and another 38 yards and one touchdown on the ground.
For Broadway and the Cajuns, it’s not how you start, but how you finish. And as rough as that first pass was, his last play of the night was sweet. The former Capitol High star’s night was done after he easily beat the defense around the edge on a quarterback keeper and strolled into the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown run that gave the Cajuns a 38-6 lead.
The Cajuns other stars joined Broadway in shining.
Eli McGuire showed no signs of being slowed down by the bulk he added this offseason. If anything, he looked more explosive, rushing for 129 yards on just 13 attempts. Jamal Robinson made a handful of freakish catches, the kind that made the press box reflexively erupt in an involuntary “Oooh!”
It was the complete team effort that everybody was expecting, the one everyone will tell you they always knew was going to happen even after they were nervously wringing their rain-soaked hands in the opening minutes of the game.
And that rain? Well, the Cajuns weren’t able to set an attendance record, but 36,170 people still showed up to take in a football game in the rain. And the football gods were even kind enough to hold the rain while the Cajuns shared the win with the fans who braved the weather in a victory lap everybody expected was coming.
The dream season started just as it was supposed to, even though it didn’t.