LAFAYETTE - Ladarius Green had already set a Cajun Field pass reception record, but perhaps his most important catch Saturday came when he cradled a high-bouncing, onside kick with 2:05 remaining.
Green’s return of the Brett Baer kickoff set up the final University of Louisiana at Lafayette touchdown drive of 39 yards, continuing a wild finish that gave the Cajuns a 36-35 comeback victory over the University of Louisiana at Monroe before 28,176.
The ULL (8-2, 6-1) victory sets up the probability of a Sun Belt Conference title game next Saturday night in Jonesboro, Ark., against Arkansas State (7-2, 5-0), which defeated Florida Atlantic on Saturday.
ULL coach Mark Hudspeth complimented his team for believing in a comeback win for the second time at Cajun Field this season.
It was also the final home appearance for ULL’s 17 senior players, who were presented at the center of the field before the game.
“Wow! I can’t say enough about this team,” Hudspeth said. “All I know is they really believe in themselves, and I could not be prouder of them for finding a way to get it done.”
ULM (2-7, 1-4) lost a one-point game to ULL for the second straight year. The Cajuns won in Monroe last year 23-22 on a blocked extra point.
The Cajuns’ onside kick came after ULL, trailing by 11 points, traveled 48 yards in 1:03 to score on a 16-yard pass from quarterback Blaine Gautier to wide receiver Darryl Surgent.
After a two-point conversion failed, Baer said he was ready to execute the onside kick ULL works on every Friday in practice, but one thing was missing - the proper kicking tee.
ULL’s equipment managers located the right one, threw it onto the field, and as Baer bounced the kick for the necessary yardage, Green said only one thought was racing through his mind.
“I knew I better go get it, I had no choice. I knew if I got it, (Gautier) would lead us down the field and we were going to get the lead,” said Green, who had 13 receptions for 136 yards and two touchdowns.
Hudspeth said Baer’s onside kick - the third successful one of his ULL career - was executed flawlessly.
“Brett kicked it just the way we practiced it,” he said. “Pee Wee (Green), in that situation, is supposed to take the ball and go through everybody, and he did just that.”
Gautier led the Cajuns into the end zone in three plays on the final drive, completing a 12-yard pass to slot receiver Robert Walker and another to receiver Jawone Lawson that placed the ball at the ULM 3.
Alonzo Harris ran into the end zone on the next play, giving the Cajuns a one-point lead and securing a 5-0 Cajun Field record this season.
ULM drove the kickoff to the Cajuns’ 46 following Harris’ score, but quarterback Kolton Browning was forced out of bounds with no time remaining.
The Warhawks seized control of the game twice in each half, only to have momentum slip away.
ULM led 14-0 after dominating the first quarter, out gaining the Cajuns in total offense (161-44).
The Cajuns came back in the second period, scoring 24 unanswered points.
In the third quarter, the Warhawks cut the ULL lead to 24-21 with the second of three Jyruss Edwards touchdown runs.
Edwards, a sophomore from White Castle, scored again with 14:53 left in the game on a 12-yard reception from Browning, giving the Warhawks their first lead - at 28-24 - since the early second quarter.
ULM scored again after Khairi Usher intercepted ULL quarterback Chris Masson, who returned the ball to the Cajuns’ 19.
This time Edwards ran 3 yards on the three-play drive to give ULM the two touchdown advantage.
ULM coach Todd Berry complimented the Cajuns on their effort, especially at the end.
“It came down to making some plays at the very end of the game. The plays were there. We didn’t make them, and that’s just the bottom line,” he said.
“We’ve got some frustrations, obviously, with some of the late penalties, but those guys were young players.”
ULM lost to Western Kentucky in overtime last Saturday in Monroe, 31-28.
Browning, a sophomore, ran for 62 yards on the Warhawks’ third offensive play to give ULM the lead with 11:34 left in the initial quarter.
Two series later, the Warhawks went 60 yards in eight plays, with Edwards going 9 yards for the TD.
“I thought we started kind of slow. Then, in the second quarter, we caught fire on both sides of the ball,” Hudspeth said.
In the second period, the Cajuns gained 228 total offensive yards, 189 passing.
Green caught a 22-yard touchdown pass from Gautier for ULL’s first points, and, Lawson ended a 69-yard drive with a 17-yard reception from Gautier with 7:38 remaining before halftime.
On ULL’s next series, Green beat a ULM linebacker who slipped in coverage and hauled in a 43-yard throw from Gautier, ending the one-play drive just over two minutes later.
Baer’s field goal - a 41-yarder with three seconds left before intermission, gave the Cajuns their 10-point advantage.
Gautier, who left the field twice with injuries (ankle and knee) threw for 355 yards, completing 30-of-47 passes. He rushed eight times for 59 more.
Lawson caught seven passes for 110.
The crowd Saturday enabled the Cajuns to establish a Cajun Field average attendance record for a single season.
ULL averaged 29,176 this year, breaking the old record of 25,224 set in 1977. Cajun Field, which first hosted a game in 1971, seats about 31,000.
Five graduates of The University of Southwestern Louisiana, now ULL) were honored at halftime for 200 or more career victories in high school coaching.
Among those receiving recognition were Carroll Delahoussaye, Kirk Crochet, Larry Dauterive, Donnie Perron and Lewis Cook Jr.