Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth mostly pleased with big win _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK --UL-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth

LAFAYETTE — A year ago, Louisiana-Lafayette had a disappointing loss in its Senior Day home finale, and the effects of that defeat left the Ragin’ Cajuns with a two-game losing streak heading into their bowl game.

Coach Mark Hudspeth said lingering disappointment won’t be an issue when his Cajuns travel to Troy on Saturday for an 11 a.m. kickoff to wrap up the regular season.

“We haven’t forgotten what happened Saturday,” he said Monday, referring to UL-Lafayette’s 36-15 loss to Appalachian State. “But we told our guys we’re not going to allow this to linger on. We did that against Tech (a 48-20 loss in the second game of the year), but one game doesn’t identify who we are. We can still win eight of our last nine, and that would be a big rebound from where the season started.”

The Cajuns (7-4, 6-1) were 1-3 at the end of September but had won six straight Sun Belt Conference games before Saturday’s loss. UL-Lafayette can still claim a share of a second straight Sun Belt title with a win at Troy on Saturday, coupled with a Georgia Southern (8-3, 7-0) loss to UL-Monroe.

“I’ll be interested to see how that one turns out,” Hudspeth said, “but to be honest, we’ll focus on what we can control. That’s the part we’re most frustrated with from Saturday.”

The Cajuns trailed 21-16 entering the fourth quarter Saturday and had the advantage of a strong wind but failed to produce in the final period for the first time in league play. UL-Lafayette managed 14 yards and one first down in the final period, while Appalachian State had two lengthy touchdown drives, including a 13-play, 76-yard march that ate up 6 minutes, 3 seconds and provided a 27-16 lead with 5:35 left.

“We were in desperation mode after that,” Hudspeth said.

He and the Cajuns know things won’t be easier Saturday despite the host Trojans’ 3-8 mark. Troy has won two in a row, albeit over the league’s bottom two in Idaho and Georgia State, and has found its offensive punch with 79 points, 620 rushing yards and 971 total yards in those two wins.

More importantly, the Trojans will play their final game under Hall of Fame coach Larry Blakeney, who announced his retirement at midseason after 23 years at Troy.

“We know they’re going to give us their best game, with it being their coach’s last game,” Cajuns senior tight end Larry Pettis said.

“We’re going to get a team that’s going to be playing with an unbelievable edge,” Hudspeth said. “Any time in that situation, you’re going to play for your coach.

“They’ve had a tough year schedule-wise, but they’ve been in a lot of games.”

No bowl thoughts

The Cajuns have locked up one of the Sun Belt’s three bowl spots and are a virtual lock to return to the New Orleans Bowl next month.

“We’re not focused on the New Orleans Bowl right now,” Pettis said. “We’re focused on just bouncing back and trying to get a win against Troy. Coming off a loss, we’re going to come out guns blazing.”

“I haven’t placed my order yet,” Hudspeth said when asked about UL-Lafayette putting bowl tickets on sale Monday. “Being bowl-eligible for a fourth year says a lot about our program. It’s about consistency and stability of our program.

“It’s quite an accomplishment for this senior class, and our fans will be excited. But for now, it’s a one-game season. Troy is our bowl game this week.”

Turkey day

Pettis, a product of Oxford, Mississippi, won’t make it home for Thanksgiving dinner. But he plans to be part of a big team contingent having dinner at the Hudspeth household Thursday.

“I live six hours away,” he said, “so Coach Hud offered us to come and eat at his house. I’ll probably go there just to bond with our teammates, since we’re all basically brothers.”

Hudspeth said the squad will have a team dinner Wednesday night and move its Thursday practice to the morning hours, so many of the players who live nearby can take teammates home with them for Thanksgiving dinner. Those who don’t go with teammates will join Hudspeth, wife Tyla and their children — including 2-week-old Captain Ty Hudspeth, who was born Nov. 10 (on Hudspeth’s 46th birthday).

“Tyla’s got a lot of turkey and dressing to be cooking,” he said.

One for the coach

Hudspeth said he has long been an admirer of Blakeney, who takes a career record of 178-112-1 into Saturday and has the third-most wins in Alabama collegiate history.

“I knew him well before he knew me,” said Hudspeth, who was head coach at North Alabama from 2002-08. “I’ve followed his career for a long time, and now that I’ve gotten to know him better, you can see why he’s so successful. He’s a class guy, and look at the run he had through this conference.”

Troy shared Sun Belt titles in 2006 and ’07, won outright crowns in 2008 and ’09 and shared another title in 2010. Blakeney’s 52 career Sun Belt victories is 20 more than any other coach in league history and was more than the rest of the league’s coaches combined entering the season.

“He’s meant a lot to this conference,” Hudspeth said, “and to the growth of this conference nationally.”