ATLANTA — It was close, and it wasn’t pretty, but the Louisiana-Lafayette football team has finally put together its first winning streak of the year.
The Ragin’ Cajuns clamped down on Georgia State and its potent pass offense in the fourth quarter. The Cajuns offense? Not a banner day, but it did enough to give the special teams a chance to win it late in a 23-21 win Saturday in the Georgia Dome.
How about freshman kicker Stevie Artigue? He drilled three of his four field-goal attempts, including a 21-yard go-ahead score with 6:59 remaining that proved to be the game-winner.
Artigue, by the way, has been responsible for 21 points in the past two weeks, games the Cajuns won by eight combined points. It’s also worth noting that Georgia State kicker Wil Lutz missed a pair of field goals.
“You can’t say enough about Stevie Artigue, the freshman, going in there and performing like he has,” quarterback Brooks Haack said. “It’s been really nice for our offense to have a kicker that you can really rely on.”
His chip-shot kick was made the winner by the Cajuns’ suddenly resurgent defense, which held Nick Arbuckle in check for the final period after the Georgia State quarterback spent the previous 45 minutes dissecting it.
Arbuckle, who finished with 313 passing yards and three touchdowns, went just 3-for-12 for 29 yards and a crucial interception in the fourth quarter. As a team, Georgia State gained just 28 yards on 17 fourth-quarter plays.
Arbuckle had hounded the Cajuns (4-4, 3-1) on third-and-long all afternoon, but Dominique Tovell recorded his second sack on third-and-10 on the Panthers’ drive following the go-ahead field goal.
“I think some of our guys just wear you down,” Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth said. “You’ve got Tovell that’s constantly coming after you, and eventually you just wear down. He’s a guy that’s got a great motor. He plays hard the whole game and made some big plays there at the end when we needed to make a big play for our team.”
The Cajuns special teams once again rose to the occasion, and again it was a freshman. Gary Haynes weaved through traffic for a career-long 49-yard punt return, setting up a short field for the offense.
This time, neither the offense nor Artigue was able to cash in, but the defense had their back again.
The Panthers (2-6, 1-3) took over at their 25 with 2:47 remaining, plenty of time to drive down the field for a game-winning field goal attempt. But once again, the Cajuns defense emerged in a huge way.
On the fifth play of that drive, the Cajuns pressure got to Arbuckle on a heave toward the middle of the field. It fluttered just enough for defensive back Savion Brown to intercept it, sealing the win.
For the first time since a 44-17 win against Northwestern State in the second week of the season, the Cajuns actually got off to a fast start on both sides of the ball. But it was the special teams that lit the fuse on this party, and that was by design.
The Cajuns drove 52 yards on their opening drive before it stalled and they settled for a 40-yard field goal by Artigue.
Artigue’s ensuing kickoff was batted out of bounds by the Georgia State returner, backing the Panthers up inside their own 10-yard line for their first possession.
The Cajuns made them pay when Travis Crawford sliced through a few blockers and went airborne to block a punt. Montrel Carter recovered the ball in the end zone to give the Cajuns a 10-0 lead.
“It was planned all week long,” Hudspeth said. “We knew we were going to come after the first one. We felt like we had a pretty good plan in place and, boy, it worked to perfection.
“The thing it allowed us to do was get a quick start. We tried to address that, coming out with a quick start and getting some momentum early.”