LAFAYETTE — Never mind the two previous misses, Brett Baer knew the time had come for redemption.
Baer, who had hooked an errant pair of third-quarter field goals, kicked a game-winning 26-yarder with no time remaining at Cajun Field Saturday night to give the University of Louisiana at Lafayette a 37-34 Sun Belt Conference victory over Florida Atlantic.
The victory gave ULL a 4-1 start to its season for the first time since 1988 and marked the first time in four attempts that the Cajuns defeated FAU in Lafayette.
Baer’s climactic field goal ended a wild finish in which FAU erased a 14-point ULL lead by scoring a pair of touchdowns during a 4:33 span of the fourth quarter to tie the game at 34-34.
The Owls (0-4, 0-1) marched 66 yards in five plays to cut the ULL lead to 34-27 with 5:41 left on a 5-yard completion from quarterback Graham Wilbert to wide receiver Dorvilus Nixon.
On the following series, FAU went 40 yards in six plays and scored again when Wilbert completed a 12-yard pass to running back Xavier Stinson with 1:48 to go.
ULL then got into field goal position for Baer. Quarterback Blaine Gautier completed six of seven attempts on the march, getting to ball to the FAU 9 on a 10-yard completion to tight end Ian Thompson.
That pass set the stage for Baer, who had missed a pair of third-quarter field goals from 48 and 25 yards.
“I didn’t want to think about it,” Baer said about the moments before the game-winner.
Baer said he had a feeling the game would come down to a field goal when the Cajuns started their final drive with 1:41 left.
After the two misses, Baer kept the Cajuns ahead (34-20) with a 46-yard field goal with 7:43 remaining in the game.
Baer’s two misses ended a streak of 14 consecutive made field goals dating to the middle of last season.
Words of encouragement from ULL coach Mark Hudspeth were an inspiration after the two misses, said Baer.
“Coach Hudspeth just came up to me and told me that I was better than that,” Baer said.
The Cajuns also improved to 2-0 in the SBC with the victory before a crowd of 26,339.
Hudspeth said the victory was a credit to his players’ ability to handle adversity when the Owls fought back to tie the game.
“When the game is on the line, our kids believe they are going to win,” Hudspeth said.
The first-year ULL coach said his team can get better despite the current four-game winning streak.
“We’re not playing great football right now, but our guys are dong what it takes to win,” Hudspeth said.
Gautier threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns. He also gained 31 yards on 10 rushing attempts.
Wide receiver Harry Peoples caught a career-high 12 passes for 176 yards.
“He (Peoples) had a great night, but some of that yardage was due to the blocking downfield of our wide receivers,” Hudspeth said.
The Cajuns erased a 17-7 mid-second-quarter deficit to grab 21-20 lead by the end of the half.
ULL scored for the first time on a game-opening drive this season when Gautier drove the Cajuns 74 yards for a touchdown in seven plays.
Gautier put the Cajuns in the end zone on a 31-yard pass to wide receiver Peoples at the 11:36 mark.
FAU helped extend the drive when the Owls roughed Baer on a punt to give ULL a first down at the 49.
The Owls used the first of two ULL fumbles to cut the lead to 7-3 as place-kicker Vinny Zaccario nailed a 26-yard attempt. FAU’s drive was initiated when Owls’ defensive lineman Jamere Johnson recovered a Gautier fumble at the Cajuns’ 14.
ULL surrendered the lead with 57 seconds left in the first quarter when Wilbert connected with tight end Darian Williams in the corner of the end zone from 24 yards away, ending a 55-yard drive.
The Owls extended their lead to 17-7 with 7:22 before intermission after FAU defensive back Treon Howard stripped Peoples of the ball at the Owls’ 30, following Peoples’ pass reception from Gautier.
The key play on the march came when wide receiver DeAndre Richardson took a lateral from Wilbert to the Cajuns’ 6. Morris bolted over from that point on the next play.
Gautier led the Cajuns 80 yards in five plays for ULL’s second TD of the half.
ULL rolled quickly downfield on a 25-yard completion to Green. The drive climaxed with Gautier’s 42 arching throw to Sturgent in the end zone (7:22).
On the next series, ULL took a 21-17 lead as Griffin gained 24 of the drive’s 71 yards on five straight rushing attempts.
Griffin fumbled when he crashed into the end zone with 3:36 left, but officials ruled he had already crossed the goal line before losing the ball.
FAU sliced that lead to a point when the Owls launched a late second quarter drive that ended with a 36-yard Zaccario field goal as time expired.