LAFAYETTE — The defining play of Louisiana-Lafayette’s loss to Akron on Saturday night came well after the game was decided but spoke everything about the attitude the Zips carried with them as they blasted the Cajuns 35-14 on their home turf.
Already leading 28-7, Zips running back Conor Hundley delivered the finishing blow. After the Akron offensive line cleared out the Cajuns defensive front, Hundley did the rest. Cajuns linebacker Dominique Tovell met Hundley at the 7-yard line, but Hundley kept churning his legs and moving forward.
By the end of the play, the 5-foot-10, 216-pound Hundley had carried four Cajuns players into the end zone, 11 yards of slam poetry that captured the essence of the game: The Zips (2-2) came to impose their will on the Cajuns (1-2), and the Zips succeeded in that mission.
“I told coach (Akron coach Terry) Bowden, ‘That was just a good butt kicking, coach,’” said Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth. “I shook his hand and I looked him in the eye. Sometimes that’s what you do.”
Akron outgained the Cajuns 458-235, a ton of those yards coming on the strength of broken tackles that the Cajuns couldn’t seem to break themselves. Akron quarterback Thomas Woodson, a 240-pound bowling ball making his third career start, carried the ball eight times for 93 yards, and many of those came in crucial situations.
And the Zips were ready to set the tone early. They held the ball for nearly 13 minutes in the first quarter, holding the Cajuns to a pair of three-and-outs while moving the ball at will against the Cajuns defense.
By the time the second quarter was 6 seconds old, the Zips had completed their second 80-plus yard drive, capped by a 14-yard touchdown run by Woodson on third-and-13.
Still, the Cajuns had a chance to emerge from their sluggish start and make a game of it. Elijah McGuire capped a 75-yard drive with a vintage 17-yard touchdown on third down to cut the deficit to seven, and the Cajuns opted to give it to McGuire again on fourth-and-goal late in the half.
But the Zips stood strong, stoning McGuire at the line to turn the Cajuns over on downs.
“I thought they whipped us physically,” Hudspeth said. “We couldn’t score from six inches out.”
That was the closest the Cajuns came to making the game competitive again.
Even when the Cajuns had their chances, they shot themselves in the foot. After stopping the Zips deep in their own territory, the Cajuns looked like they would take over with solid field position. But punt returner Torrey Pierce muffed a punt near midfield, allowing Akron to pounce on it and run out the clock in the first half.
When the Cajuns tried to get something going to start the second half, an ill-advised throw into double-coverage by quarterback Brooks Haack on the first series of the third quarter resulted in an interception.
The Zips capitalized, starting the second half on a 21-0 run, beginning with a 1-yard Hundley run to cap Akron’s third 80-plus-yard drive of the game.
The next scoring drive didn’t take nearly as long. With the Cajuns sending the house on a blitz, Woodson identified single coverage and threw a dart to Jerome Lane on a skinny post. Lane did the rest, racing 72 yards for the score.
“They let him throw it down the field a little more than we expected,” said linebacker Dominique Tovell. “He just put a lot of balls on the money, a lot of good balls.”
Hundley put the cherry on top with his 11-yard score through the heart of the Cajuns defense.
“We couldn’t get anything going in the first three quarters offensively, and our defense couldn’t hang on any longer,” Hudspeth said.
After the game, Hudspeth said he saw this outcome coming. The Cajuns moved into their new team areas at the Athletic Performance Center during their open date, and Hudspeth said it was too much of a distraction for his young team to deal with.
“I saw this coming a mile away,” he said. “I was hoping that it wouldn’t happen. This was too much of a distraction, too much to do in the middle of the season. Bad timing on everybody’s part with moving in or planning on moving in during the middle of the season.”
That being said, Hudspeth wasn’t blaming the loss on the new facility. That he put squarely on his and his team’s shoulders.
“They’ve got good players,” Hudspeth said. “That’s a really good football team, and they were better than us tonight.”
The Cajuns don’t have long to turn things around. A road trip to Ruston to face Louisiana Tech -- the team that embarrassed them last season at home -- is looming on the schedule next week.
“I told our guys this is that wake up call that you get every once in a while,” Hudspeth said. “I’ll be honest with you, wake up calls sometimes are the best things that can happen to you. Luckily, it’s happened to us now and we didn’t move in midway through the conference schedule – that would’ve been really bad.
“The wakeup call came at a good time. Hopefully that will re-focus our coaches and our players. We’ll come back and hit it tomorrow better than we ever have.”