LAFAYETTE — After a break, the Louisiana IceGators found themselves behind the 8-ball Sunday afternoon.

In their first contest this weekend after a three-day break, the Gators fell behind by a pair of goals a couple of times in a 5-3 loss to the Columbus Cottonmouths at the Cajundome.

“That was by far our worst game of the year,” Gators coach Drew Omicioli said. “We got outworked at home on a Sunday. It’s disappointing because we could have made it 11 points (ahead of Columbus), but now it’s back to seven and they are in the mix.”

That margin is the spread that Louisiana has over Columbus for the cut line of the Southern Professional Hockey League playoffs. The Gators (21-20-4) stand at 46 points, while Columbus (16-21-7) has 39 points.

Columbus jumped ahead of the Gators thanks to a goal from Rusty Hafner midway through the first period. When Dylen McKinlay stuffed in a rebound chance 90 seconds into the second period, the Cottonmouths had doubled their advantage.

“I expect us not to come out flat against a team that we are better than,” Omicioli said. “We had a bad game and we were still in it. It’s an important loss. It lets guys know that we can put up five goals against Mississippi (Wednesday) — the second-place team in the league — and then give up five to Columbus.”

The Gators managed to wipe out that Columbus lead thanks to goals by Blake Hietala and Jake Hauswirth less than two minutes apart in the second period. But Columbus took the lead for good off a faceoff with 8:58 on the clock. Chad Bennett found enough space right after that faceoff to slap the puck past Gator goalie Adam Courchaine to make it 3-2.

“We had two guys miss assignments on that goal,” Omicioli said.

Columbus took advantage of a 5-on-3 opportunity to push the lead back to two again with 15:18 left in the contest. Kyle Shapiro cashed that in with a one-timer after he took a feed from Tyler Henry.

“One of their guys was offside on the penalty that led to the 5-on-3, but we can’t blame anybody but ourselves,” Omicioli said. “We took two steps back today.”

Zac Frischmon pulled the Gators within a goal when he found the back of the net with 10:29 left, but Louisiana was unable to get the equalizer. When the Gators sent Courchaine off in favor of an extra attacker, Bennett scored an unassisted goal with 23 seconds left.

The Gators’ next game comes at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday at home against a Pensacola squad that has a perfect mark against the Gators.