LAFAYETTE - Just when it seemed things couldn’t get any better for Mark Hudspeth and his University of Louisiana at Lafayette football team, they did.
The Ragin’ Cajuns, still basking in the glow of their first nonconference road victory in five years, learned Monday they will have plenty of support - record support, in fact - when they return home Saturday for their home-opener against Nicholls State.
Before Hudspeth’s weekly news conference Monday, ULL Interim Athletic Director Scott Farmer announced the excitement generated by Hudspeth and the Cajuns has led to a record 8,153 season tickets being sold by 9 a.m. Monday.
That is a 27-percent increase over last year’s season ticket total and 666 higher than the previous ULL record.
“There is a lot of excitement in the community, people are coming forward and we anticipate a lot of people there this Saturday,” Farmer said.
Hudspeth called the news “incredibly exciting.”
“And that just goes to show how hungry everybody here and at (ULL) is for a winner,” he said. “This community, our alumni and our fans have really rallied around our football team and to show that type of support is going to fire our football team up like you’ve never seen.”
Hudspeth said he is looking forward to leading his Cajuns out of the tunnel for the home opener.
“That’s going to give me goose bumps,” he said. “I’m going to be real excited to lead this team, because we know we represent not only Acadiana, Lafayette, all the alumni, the students, the faculty, the administration ? we represent a lot of people, and we don’t want to let them down.”
The ticket news was the second shot in the arm in less than 48 hours for a team trying to find a new identity with a new head coach after going 3-9 last season.
The first boost came Saturday, when the Cajuns won at Kent State 20-12.
The ULL defense keyed the victory, intercepting one pass, recovering three fumbles and adding three sacks in holding Kent State to 186 total yards, only 72 rushing. Safety Lionel Stokes sparked the effort, returning an interception 63 yards for a touchdown.
Offensively, Hudspeth is still searching for answers after watching his team generate just 159 yards. Hudspeth said he plans to take the weather - heavy rain and a nearly 1-1/2-hour lightning delay - into consideration when he evaluates quarterbacks Chris Masson and Blaine Gautier.
Masson started but was only 5 of 13 for 18 yards and one interception. Gautier, who had started the opener at Oklahoma State, entered the game in the final quarter, provided some key plays down the stretch and rushed for 39 yards while going 2-for-2 passing for 28 yards.
Hudspeth said both will play against Nicholls (1-1).
“I want the chance to evaluate these two guys a little more, because they are both doing some good things with the ball, they are both very talented and they’ve both worked awfully hard,” Hudspeth said. “I want to give them a little more time for this to shake out.”
Hudspeth served as Nicholls State’s wide receivers/tight ends coach in 1994-95. Three ULL assistants were also part of that staff. ... Tight end Ladarius Green, who sat out last week’s game at Kent State, is expected to play this week against Nicholls, Hudspeth said. ... ULL leads the series 2-0. The teams last played in 2001.