TUCSON, Ariz. — Quarterback Blaine Gautier said the loss will likely sting for a couple more days, but Louisiana-Lafayette’s season will extend into next month.
The Ragin’ Cajuns hung with the Pac-12’s Arizona, but missed tackles and penalties hurt in a 45-37 loss Saturday.
ULL (8-4) falls short of breaking a school record for 10 wins in a season, but the Cajuns have qualified for the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, their first bowl appearance in 41 years.
“It was good to see our offense put up points like that,” said Gautier, who tied the school single-season record for touchdown passes (20). “It was definitely good to see our defense stop them when we really needed stops.
“Definitely you wanted the win. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing the national champs or what. When it’s all said and done, we look up at the scoreboard and it’s a loss, you’re definitely going to hurt. We still have another week to play for.”
Struggling Arizona’s season ended Saturday, but the Wildcats (4-8) pounced on the Cajuns with their passing game. Nick Foles became the 10th quarterback in the Pac-12 to throw for more than 10,000 career yards. Despite nursing bruised ribs and sitting out the game’s first drive, Foles went 33 of 43 for 352 yards and three touchdowns. He also tied school records for career and single-season touchdown passes.
“They wore us out on the perimeter,” ULL coach Mark Hudspeth said. “We just didn’t do a good job of making adjustments, and they had their way with us out there. Then, second half, after we did a few things, we missed some tackles.”
Arizona took control by throwing two touchdowns in the final 3:13 of the first half for a 21-13 lead.
“They were very deflating,” Gautier said of the touchdowns.
The Cajuns also hurt themselves with miscues. ULL finished with 10 penalties for 106 yards compared to Arizona’s three for 20 yards.
The Cajuns snagged their nation-leading seventh interception return for a touchdown, tying Tennessee’s 1971 team for the NCAA record, when cornerback Jermarlous Moten returned a pick 41 yards for a touchdown to cut Arizona’s lead to 31-23 in the fourth quarter.
An unsportsmanlike penalty for celebrating was assessed on the kickoff, which the Wildcats returned 81 yards, eventually leading to a touchdown and a 38-23 lead.
“Just too many mistakes,” Hudspeth said. “Penalties absolutely killed us.”
“This is the Pac-12 — you can’t give them too much momentum,” said Moten, who finished with two interceptions.
ULL also lost a fumble, leading to an Arizona touchdown for a 21-13 lead with 34 seconds left before halftime.
Still, the Cajuns hung around, cutting the lead to 38-30 with 10:26 left and 45-37 with 5:05 left. ULL finished with 408 yards of total offense, faked a punt that led to a touchdown, and Gautier completed 24 of 36 passes for 315 yards. But in the end, the Cajuns were unable to overcome their mistakes.
“We played really good at times,” Hudspeth said. “Then at times we absolutely killed ourselves with some penalties and some things we have to do better. So, if we can minimize mistakes and play at that high level we play with sometimes, we’re pretty good.”
Gautier tied Jake Delhomme for the single-season school record for touchdown passes with a 4-yard pass to Alonzo Harris in the second quarter. Delhomme threw 20 touchdown passes in 1995 and 1996. “He’s had a really good season, played extremely, extremely well,” Hudspeth said. “He missed a couple today he’d like to have back.” … After getting their own onside kick with 9:17 left in the first quarter, the Cajuns are 3 of 3 on onside kicks this season. … Besides his two interceptions, Moten finished with a team-high nine tackles. He said the Cajuns are aiming for a record-breaking eighth interception returned for a touchdown. “We have one more game, we’re going to see what happens,” Moten said. … Javone Lawson led the Cajuns with five catches for 137 yards. … Attendance was 38,819. … Cornerback Bill Bentley dislocated his shoulder in the fourth quarter.