Last Saturday night was a coming-out party for UL-Lafayette kicker Kyle Pfau, and blame the Ragin’ Cajuns’ offense for making the graduate-transfer kicker wait so long.
Pfau had two of the biggest plays in the Cajuns’ 47-43 victory over Arkansas State, a win that put UL-Lafayette into a tie for the Sun Belt Conference’s West Division lead. His career-long 52-yard field goal with 2 seconds before halftime provided a two-score 31-21 halftime lead. A 47-yard field goal midway through the third quarter upped that margin to 13 points.
The two kicks were far and away his longest since joining the Cajuns before this season. The former LSU and Oklahoma kicker’s previous long was 43 yards one week earlier at Appalachian State.
“Obviously it was a big boost to our team and it’s great to get a career long,” said Pfau, who raced to the sideline amid embraces by his teammates after the late-half kick. “But I’m just excited we got the win at the end of the day and I was able to contribute to that.”
The 52-yarder was the longest since Brett Baer’s legendary game-winner at the horn in the 2011 New Orleans Bowl, a kick that gave UL-Lafayette its first bowl win.
The long field goals didn’t surprise Cajuns coach Billy Napier.
“We do two-minute every Thursday against each other, and I can’t remember the last time the guy missed one,” Napier said. “He’s hit some deep ones like he did in the game in practice. Every time we’ve put him in an opportunity, he’s answered.”
Pfau is a product of Klein, Texas, whose family has deep Louisiana roots — several family members, including his dad, a New Orleans native, attended LSU — but has hasn’t had many opportunities to show his abilities. Much of that stems from UL-Lafayette’s almost uncanny touchdown success in the red zone.
In scoring touchdowns, the Cajuns have the country’s best percentage on red-zone trips — 22 touchdowns on 26 red-zone appearances, for an 84.6 percentage. UL-Lafayette is also fourth nationally in third-down conversion (53.3 percent), further limiting field-goal chances.
Pfau had only four attempts, making three, through UL-Lafayette’s first seven games. That was before his 2-for-2 showing Saturday, which earned him Sun Belt Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
“We have a great red-zone offense,” Pfau said. “I’d like to get some more kicks because I’m seriously competitive, but I don’t mind us running up the scoreboard. That’s also pretty nice.”
Opportunity is something Pfau has craved since he redshirted at LSU in 2014. In 2015 he transferred to Oklahoma, only to find himself in a competition with Austin Seibert, who is wrapping up a record-setting career with the Sooners and enters November with 439 career kicking points.
“I was behind a great kicker ... Austin’s phenomenal,” Pfau said. “I knew what I could do, but honestly me being there made both of us better. I don’t like to miss; I like to be perfect in everything I do — especially kicking, because you only have one opportunity. I don’t regret any of that.”
No opportunities would have existed at UL-Lafayette, either, but record-setting kicker Stevie Artigue tore an ACL in the offseason and had to undergo reconstructive surgery. Artigue was the Cajuns’ starter for three years, hitting 19 of 24 field goals in 2016 and 10 of 14 last year despite the flare-up of his knee injuries.
It was Seibert who pointed Pfau toward the Cajuns after he completed his degree requirements in finance during the spring semester. That communication came just in time, since Pfau had almost decided to put his cleats in a closet. He had played in only two games for the Sooners, handling kickoff duties.
“The game wasn’t as much fun,” he said. “Knowing that I wasn’t going to play much, that had me at a low point. I was able to graduate and get my degree, and I had two job opportunities and I was maybe deciding to go in that direction. But coach Napier and coach (Matt) Powledge gave me an opportunity here, so I said why not.”
Pfau made a visit, and soon he was in Lafayette going through summer workouts with the rest of the Cajuns.
As with most graduate transfers, it’s a one-year opportunity. The Cajuns could have Artigue — the school’s No. 4 all-time kick scoring leader — back as a senior next season. But for now, Napier is more than happy.
“The guy’s really been one of the better performers that we have,” Napier said. “He’s a guy that’s deserving of this. He’s a good one. I wish we had him for several more years, but we’ve got him for one and he’s made a difference.”