LAFAYETTE — Javone Lawson made sure his University of Louisiana at Lafayette football teammates knew the importance of this weekend’s regular-season finale.
“After our workout (Sunday), I huddled the team up,” the senior wide receiver said Monday. “I told them that we don’t finish with anything less than last year. We had nine wins, and we don’t want any drop-off.”
The Ragin’ Cajuns (7-4, 5-2 Sun Belt Conference) could easily be looking past Saturday’s game, since the stakes aren’t high for the 2 p.m. game at Florida Atlantic (3-8, 2-5).
ULL has already locked up its second bowl appearance in as many seasons, accepting a bid to the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl minutes after their 52-30 victory over South Alabama on Saturday. In addition, the Cajuns don’t have a shot at a share of the Sun Belt title, which will be decided Saturday when Middle Tennessee (6-1) visits Arkansas State (6-1).
At stake will be a share of second place in the final standings, and an eighth win that would match last year’s 8-4 regular-season mark — which would be only the second eight-win season since 1993. But coach Mark Hudspeth said more than just numbers are at stake.
“I hope we can finish up strong,” said Hudspeth, whose team has won three of its past four and suffered its only loss to No. 4-ranked Florida during that streak. “We have to make sure we’re looking at Florida Atlantic and not down the road.”
“That’s up to us seniors to make sure everybody’s focused on the task at hand,” said Lawson, who returned from three weeks of injury inactivity with three catches for 113 yards and a touchdown in Saturday’s win. “It would be easy to look past this game, but the New Orleans Bowl is a month away. We have to focus on this week.”
The FAU squad of first-year coach Carl Pelini — older brother of Nebraska coach and former LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini — has knocked off two Sun Belt teams with better records than the Owls in Troy and Western Kentucky. The Owls had an open date last Saturday after losing 34-24 to Florida International in the annual “Shula Bowl” one Saturday earlier.
“They’re improving each week,” Hudspeth said. ‘They’re good against the pass, they create turnovers, and they’re a big, physical, good-looking football team. Being in South Florida, you’re going to have a lot of talent, and their quarterback (Graham Wilbert) is talented, and just doesn’t turn the ball over.”
The Cajuns had a solid quarterback effort of their own Saturday, with sophomore Terrance Broadway passing for 305 yards and two touchdowns on only 11 completions and running for 65 yards and another score.
Broadway engineered an offense that churned out 548 yards and scored on eight of 13 possessions.
“Terrance is starting to look like that guy that could be one of the best quarterbacks in the conference,” Hudspeth said of the former Capitol High School star. “Offensively, we’re playing as well as at any point this year.
“I would love to see us play a couple of those games from midseason again when we had a dip in our offensive level.”
Lawson and fellow senior wide out Harry Peoples were a big part of that offensive effort, combining for 279 receiving yards. Peoples had a season-high 166 yards including a 75-yard catch-and-run touchdown from Broadway late in Saturday’s first quarter to give the Cajuns the lead for good at 10-7.
In the final minute of Saturday’s first half, after ULL forced a punt, Lawson had a 53-yard reception to the USA 27. One play later, he gathered in a 27-yard scoring pass from Broadway that made it 24-16. Lawson had each of his three catches in the first half in returning from a broken forearm suffered in a loss to Arkansas State.
“Just having to watch everybody play and seeing what we went through, I kept thinking if I was in there I could make a difference,” Lawson said. “It felt good just being back out there and getting an opportunity to play.
“Now I take every opportunity to play like it might be my last one, after what I went through.”
ECU or Rice to play Cajuns
NEW ORLEANS — Either East Carolina or Rice will be meeting Louisiana-Lafayette in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, the Conference USA league office announced on Monday.
Which team it will be is contingent on the outcome of Saturday’s C-USA championship game between Tulsa and Central Florida.
If Tulsa wins, East Carolina will be in the New Orleans Bowl and if Central Florida wins, it’ll be Rice.
It would be the first New Orleans Bowl appearance for East Carolina (8-4) while Rice (6-6), which won its last four games to become bowl eligible, lost to Troy 41-17 in the 2006 game.
In either case, the bowl game, scheduled for an 11 a.m. kickoff on Dec. 22, will be their game played in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome this season.
East Carolina defeated Tulane, 28-23, on Nov. 17 while the Owls nipped the Green Wave, 49-47.
ULL was a 32-30 winner against San Diego State in last year’s New Orleans Bowl.
Advocate sportswriter Ted Lewis contributed to this report.