He finished off the most memorable play in Louisiana-Lafayette football history, but Brett Baer’s best memories are what happened more than an hour after the 2011 R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.
Baer’s most vivid recollections aren’t seeing his last-play 50-yard field goal sail through the Poydras Street uprights at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome — which he actually didn’t see until watching a replay. The Mississippi native remembers running aimlessly around the Superdome turf celebrating the first Division I bowl win in school history, but that’s still not what’s burned into his brain.
For Baer, the best part of the 32-30 win over San Diego State that capped the Ragin’ Cajuns’ storybook season came well after the final horn.
“We were in no hurry to get out of the Dome,” he said. “We didn’t leave there until around 1 a.m., and I remember best getting back to the hotel and seeing the flood of fans at the Marriott ... so many people there that were so happy and there was so much excitement. It was like a big family atmosphere.”
Baer made that family happy with that last kick, and few remembered or cared that one of the most accurate kickers in NCAA history had missed two extra points during the game. He well remembers looking up at the scoreboard when the Aztecs scored a potential game-winning touchdown with 35 seconds left that made it 30-29.
“I was on the sideline thinking those two extra points were losing the game for us,” he said. “Everyone was coming up to me and saying we’re going to have a chance and we’re going to need you at the end. To be honest, I used to think in that situation that the game was over.
“What happened after that made me a believer.”
What happened was, first, San Diego State quarterback Ryan Lindley — who will start for the NFC-leading Arizona Cardinals Sunday night against Seattle — had a two-point conversion pass to Colin Lockett nullified when it was ruled that Lockett stepped out of the end zone and came back in to make the catch. Moments earlier, Lindley had hit Lockett with a 12-yard touchdown pass to give the Aztecs their first lead since an early field goal.
Darryl Surgent’s following kickoff return went only to the 18, but New Orleans Bowl Outstanding Player Blaine Gautier fought the clock and somehow found Harry Peoples on a slant for 13 yards and Javone Lawson on a crossing pattern for 26. The second of those moved the ball to the SDSU 43, and after Gautier spiked a snap to stop the clock with seven seconds left, he had the last of his bowl-record 470 passing yards on a 5-yard out to Peoples with three seconds showing.
Out came Baer for what would have been a career-long 55-yard field goal, but just before the snap, penalty flags flew.
“I thought it was a false start and we were going to back up five more,” Baer said. “But I saw (Daniel) Quave and (Jaron) Odom both clapping.”
SDSU had drawn the penalty for illegal “stemming” (defensive line flinching to simulate the snap), moving the ball to the Aztecs 33 and making his attempt 50 yards.
“It wasn’t like a change in mindset. It happened so fast,” Baer said. “It’s not that it wasn’t makeable at 55, but we knew from 50 we had a chance.”
That walkoff became huge, since it’s still not certain if the biggest field goal in program history would have remained good from 5 yards back. John Broussard’s snap was true and backup quarterback Brady Thomas handled the hold, and Baer’s kick cleared the line of scrimmage with room to spare. It had plenty of distance, but it was visibly hooking toward the left upright.
“I never saw it go through, but I was glad it didn’t hook out,” said Baer, who earlier that year had a final-play game-winning field goal against Florida Atlantic. And when he heard the roar from the 42,481 in attendance, just after the kick landed on the purple bowl tarp that covered the entrance to field level, Baer wasn’t going to repeat that post-game scrum.
“Brady was trying to take me to the ground,” he said. “Everybody had piled on top of me at the end of that one (FAU), and the bottom of that’s definitely not fun. It takes those big guys a while to get off of you.”
Instead, he broke into a helter-skelter run, with Thomas and many of his teammates making chase while the SDSU sideline and fan sections sat and stood, stunned.
“I didn’t know where I was going,” he said, “but it was fun.”
Baer had three field goals, including a 50-yarder with no time remaining on the final play of the third period, and punted five times for a 42.4 average in the following year’s 43-34 New Orleans Bowl win over East Carolina. That was his last collegiate game, but he was on hand last year for the Cajuns’ third straight bowl win — ironically, the 24-21 bowl matchup against Tulane decided on a missed Green Wave field goal in the final 10 seconds — and will be in the Superdome again Saturday.
Fiancee’ Lauren Breaux will be with him Saturday, the Mississippi kid slated for a wedding with the hometown girl in August. Before that, Baer begins physical therapy school in Austin, Texas, on Jan. 5.
“I don’t know how many more I’ll see with P.T. school,” Baer said, “so we’re going to enjoy this holiday season and enjoy the game.”
To a man, Cajuns fans would say that Baer deserves that.