For all those sweating the details of UL’s 31-30 nailbiting victory over UL-Monroe on Saturday at Cajun Field, there was certainly a lot to be concerned about.
A lot didn’t go well for the Cajuns.
Offensively, they had their worst performance of the season on third down, converting only 3 of 14.
Defensively, the Cajuns gave up a season-high 570 yards.
UL needed plenty of help to earn the program’s first 10-win season with a missed extra point and missed field goal with 2 seconds left to play allowing the Cajuns to celebrate.
But some wins shouldn’t be overanalyzed and Saturday’s dramatic one-point victory was one of those.
The first nine wins were all by double figures. There’s no shame in the ball bouncing your way on one of them. Most teams with this many wins usually get a few they just as easily could have lost.
“Their team was ready to play,” UL coach Billy Napier said of ULM’s performance. “They had a really good plan on all three phases and executed well. It wasn’t easy out there tonight.
“It’s a good team win. In football, I hate to say it, but they’re not all going to be 53-3. There are going to be nights like tonight. This was more like some of the games we played the second half of the season last year. That’s what it reminded me of.”
Sometimes you have to overcome injuries in one that goes down to the wire.
UL’s defense played without safety Percy Butler, linebacker Ferrod Gardner and defensive tackle Zi’Yon Hill. Then safety Cameron Solomon was ejected in the first half for targeting. Linebacker Joe Dillon was also injured during the game.
“We were a little depleted today,” Napier said. “The play count was going up, and we did look tired. It was a product of not being as deep and not being as fresh as usual. We’ve been fortunate to have pretty good depth and be able to rotate players, but certainly that wasn’t the case tonight.”
Sure, things weren’t perfect. UL displayed some uncomfortable reminders of the way things used to be, some bad play calls and some iffy execution.
But sometimes it’s more fitting to look at the big picture.
“A significant accomplishment here,” Napier said. “We’ve got hundreds of people that work and directly affect our football program. For them to be able to come back here for the rest of their life and say they were a part of that 2019 team that won 10 games for the first time in school history is a pretty special deal.”
A head coach normally a total stickler for the details was willing to give a pass this time.
“It was an emotional day for our football team, and I think we kind of played that way to be honest,” Napier said. “I think there’s going to be some things that we can learn from a poise standpoint. For this group of seniors, I can understand that. It should be emotional. I’m happy for everybody involved with our team that we found a way to win that game tonight.”
The moment and the overall achievement weren’t lost on senior linebacker Jacques Boudreaux.
“I’m so thrilled to be a part of this,” said Boudreaux, who had a team-high 12 tackles. “I can’t thank coach Nape enough for coming in and changing the culture here. I really mean it. All the coaches, they came in here and changed the culture. They changed the way we thought and allowed us to be better players. That’s what happened.”
Overlooking the details doesn’t mean a lack of accountability. Senior Ja’Marcus Bradley was possibly the more relieved player when ULM’s Jared Porter missed that last field goal.
During UL’s eventual game-winning drive, the senior receiver failed to make a diving grab in the end zone.
“It was nerve-racking, because made a lot of mistakes,” Bradley said. “We knew the game wasn’t supposed to be that close. We trusted our defense, but it was a little nerve-racking for me because of that one play. I should have caught it. If we would have lost, I would have blamed that loss on me because I knew I should have caught that ball.”
The team's leaders realize Saturday’s level of play won’t be good enough when UL travels to Appalachian State with the Sun Belt crown on the line Saturday.
“Credit to ULM, they’ve got a good outfit,” Boudreaux said. “They’re a good football team. They’ve got some players that can roll, but I’m very happy for this team. But obviously we can clean some things up going into this championship game and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Plus, after all that's been accomplished over these last two seasons. It's much too late to start doubting this team now.