LAFAYETTE — At the start of the season, Mark Hudspeth preached that his University of Louisiana at Lafayette football team would win games in the fourth quarter.
That’s been an accurate forecast so far as ULL (3-1) hasn’t been outplayed in any of the final periods.
Hudspeth thought that was the case again Saturday night as the Cajuns defeated defending Sun Belt Conference champion Florida International 36-31 in Miami, Fla.
Leading 29-21 at the end of three quarters, ULL held off FIU in the final 15 minutes to win a game in which the Cajuns were rated a 17-point underdog.
Hudspeth credited the Cajuns’ fourth quarter performance, FIU’s poor field position and an offense that discovered its explosiveness to give ULL an auspicious start — with three straight home games scheduled next against conference opponents.
The Cajuns’ start is the best since 1988, when they were 4-0. ULL as also 3-1 in 1986.
“We knew if we could get this game into the fourth quarter we would win,” Hudspeth said. “Every day we’ve been practicing to be a fourth quarter football team, and I could not be more proud of my team.”
The Cajuns ended the game with a Lionel Stokes interception, the sixth by the defense this season.
As much as ULL ended without the fourth quarter collapses that occurred last year, Hudspeth felt punter/place-kicker Brett Baer was a key piece of the victory puzzle.
Baer punted eight times for a 40.9-yard average, and five of those were downed inside the FIU 5-yard line.
The Cajuns turned one of those possessions into a first quarter safety. Another in the second half led to an interception.
Hudspeth said ULL’s practices last week emphasized pinning the Panthers offense (which led the SBC) back deep in their own territory.
“I preached that all week long: If we pin them back and force them to have drives of 85, 90 or 99 yards, we get a chance to win,” Hudspeth said. “We wanted to pin (FIU) back all night long, and it worked to perfection. It’s an easy game if you follow the plan.”
At midweek Hudspeth decided to start junior Blaine Gautier at quarterback, after two games in which senior and two-year starter Chris Masson took the first snap.
Operating mostly from the shotgun, Gautier threw for 221 yards and three touchdowns in addition to running for another 86 on 15 attempts.
FIU safety Jonathan Cyprien said the Cajuns offense made enough significant plays to keep the Panthers off balance.
“We didn’t read our keys the way we should have, and they made plays at times when we were not in the right position,” Cyprien said. “We just gave it up as a whole unit back there.”
Green is effective
ULL tight end Ladarius Green played most of the game for the first time this season after suffering a shoulder injury in the opener at Oklahoma State. His presence was notable, as he caught three passes for 56 yards, including a 41-yard TD.