There will be plenty of incentive for both teams when the UL Ragin’ Cajuns and the UL-Monroe Warhawks end the regular season at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Cajun Field on ESPNU.
For the visiting Warhawks (5-6, 4-3), a win is required to become bowl eligible … not to mention the annual bragging rights any state rivalry game brings.
For the Cajuns, the list is even longer, ranging from sending off the seniors the right way to potentially the first 10-win season in school history.
For UL coach Billy Napier, he hopes his team’s approach starts with upholding a standard of play.
For many kids, it wouldn’t have been as alarming as it was to St. Thomas More junior outfielder Brennan Breaux that afternoon more than five y…
“What I’m going to talk to our team about is, ‘Hey, you went to Coastal and you did something very similar to this and you laid an egg against South Alabama,’ ” Napier said. “Now you’ve got an opportunity to decide to be different and play to a standard and not necessarily to emotions or what’s at stake or your respect for the opponent.”
Much like two weeks ago, Napier’s Cajuns (9-2, 6-1) are coming off a near-perfect performance in the 53-3 win over Troy. The head coach typically focuses on the mental approach to handle such a task.
“I think our guys will be ready, but there’s always going to be problems,” Napier said. “Troy’s got their problems, ULM’s got their problems and South Alabama’s got their problems. Sometimes when you have success and everybody’s patting you on the back and telling you how good you are, there’s some problems that come along with that.
“We’re going to have to stay humble and remember what got us here.”
But really, it doesn’t take much incentive for the Cajuns and Warhawks to get excited about playing each other. It’s been a thrilling series over the decades with UL holding a 28-25 lead.
“It’s a great opportunity for our seniors,” Napier said. “We’re also playing ULM, which is certainly an in-state rival. There’s tons of history and tradition and relationships there within the state. And we’re playing on national TV again, which gives us another opportunity to do well for our team, our program and the university and the community.”
It’s easy to understand why Saturday’s Senior Day at Cajun Field is going to be so special for UL coach Billy Napier and his staff.
And of course, the game could mean even more if Appalachian State is knocked off Friday night at Troy, which is also 5-6 and needs the win to become bowl eligible. A Troy upset win would mean UL must beat ULM to host the Sun Belt Conference championship game at 11 a.m. Dec. 7. If not, the Cajuns would meet the Mountaineers in Boone, N.C.
So far this season, the Warhawks’ offense has scored 30 or more points seven times in 11 games, led by senior quarterback Caleb Evans.
ULM has also been bolstered by a new leading rusher in Josh Johnson with 1,206 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“I think they got challenges all over the field,” Napier said of ULM. “You start with the effort and toughness that they play with. Defensively when you put the tape on that’s what you see. You see a lot of good athletes, a lot of good football players that are well coached. Certainly on offense they’re very capable.
“The quarterback is dynamic and the new runner that they have has 1,200 yards. He’s a very productive player, a former Ole Miss signee, and this is a veteran offensive line. A lot of these guys have played tons of snaps. And they’re always good in the kicking game, he does a good job there. In general they’re a good team, and it’s going to require us to be at our best.”
Perhaps it comes with in-state rivalries, or perhaps it’s just this opponent.
A year ago, the Cajuns survived a 31-28 barnburner in Monroe with the Warhawks missing a field goal on the last play of the game.
“We beat them last year by a missed field goal,” UL center Shane Vallot said. “They’ll probably get motivated by that.”
In this matchup on this Saturday evening, get in line.