LAFAYETTE — With a secondary capable of scoring touchdowns, how much offense does the University of Louisiana at Lafayette really need?
The Cajuns’ defensive backs answered that question by once again playing a major scoring role, as ULL rolled to a 38-21 victory over Nicholls State on Saturday night in the season home opener before 28,741 at Cajun Field.
Defensive back Dwight Bentley helped seal the win with 13 minutes and 23 seconds left in the third quarter when he returned a LaQuentin Caston pass 41 yards to put ULL permanently in front, 21-14.
The interception was the fifth this season for ULL and the fourth returned by the secondary for a touchdown.
Perhaps the play that permanently changed the momentum came midway in the second quarter when ULL freshman wide receiver Justin Hamilton blocked a 41-yard field-goal attempt by Nicholls place-kicker Andrew Dolan.
Hamilton’s block fell into the hands of ULL cornerback Melvin White, who returned the ball 68 yards in front of the Nicholls sideline for a touchdown.
Nicholls State head coach Charlie Stubbs said White’s blocked field goal return and Bentley’s interception were the two plays that changed the momentum for the Colonels.
“That was a big momentum play. At the time we were maybe on our way to going up by three. That along with the interception were some big swings in momentum,” Stubbs said.
Hudspeth said the combination of the Cajuns’ defense and special teams were the key components in the win.
“My hat’s off to our defense and special team. Both played really, really well; and once again, we played a good defensive game,” he said.
A pregame study of Nicholls’ special teams provided a clue to the block, Hudspeth said.
“We timed them during the pregame and we knew that they get-off times were slow. We felt like we could come in and get one,” he said.
Hudspeth said the Cajuns’ offense, which finished with 280 total yards, needs improvement.
ULL showed an explosive offensive touch only once, when quarterback Blaine Gautier, who replaced starter Chris Masson in the second half, threw a 60-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Javone Lawon with 5:50 left in the game.
Stubbs said the Colonels were aware all week that ULL’s secondary has been an opportunistic group.
“That was one thing I preached all week, that (the ULL) defense was going to attack the ball, and they did,” he said.
Caston, who played at Scotlandville High, said he saw Bentley waiting in a passing lane after it was too late.
“We were expecting cover 3 and we thought in that defense their corner (Bentley) would be looking to the outside. Instead he was right there on the throw and made a big time play on the ball,” Caston said.
Hudspeth said his team was inspired by the size and enthusiasm of the crowd, the eighth-largest in the 41-season history of Cajun Field.
“The crowd I thought was the difference in the game. That was a big-time college atmosphere. We are going to protect our house this season and win our home games,” Hudspeth said.
The teams traded a pair of first quarter touchdowns to end the period deadlocked at 14.
Turnovers played a big part in those touchdowns.
ULL used a Nicholls fumble recovered by ULL linebacker Devon Lewis-Buchanan at the Colonels’ 18 for the first score.
Masson kept for a 1-yard touchdown (9:24) for the game’s first score.
The Colonels drove 54 yards to tie the game at 7 after running back Marcus Washington ran through a large hole in the ULL defensive line for a 10-yard score (6:42).
ULL drove 49 yards to lead 14-7 on the following drive.
Tight end Larry Pettis and running back Rob Walker each caught passes for a combined 37 yards before fullback Brad McGuire scored from the 1 with 4:32 left.
Nicholls defensive back Bobby Felder set up the next Colonels’ score when he returned a Masson interception to the ULL 36.
Wide receiver Joshua Warren split the Cajuns’ secondary and scored on a 36-yard Caston pass on third down. Dolan’s point after kick tied the game at 14 with 1:08 left.
Caston finished with 100 passing yards after completing 8-of-16.
Masson threw for only 60 yards after completing 4-of-11. Only one of Gautier’s passes fell incomplete.
Former ULL football players welcomed the Cajuns onto the field before the opening kickoff.
Among those greeting the players was former ULL quarterback Jake Delhomme, who played last season for the Cleveland Browns.
Delhomme was released by Cleveland before the start of this year’s training camp.