Normally, UL senior wide receiver Jarrod “Bam” Jackson pays close attention when opponents are attempting field goals and extra points.
He’s intimately involved in that process, since he’s the Ragin’ Cajuns' holder, and only minutes earlier Saturday he’d handled Paul Boudreaux's snap for teammate Stevie Artigue’s 27-yard field goal with 1:21 left that gave UL a 31-30 lead over state and Sun Belt Conference rival UL-Monroe.
A game that wound up being decided by field goals — one made, one missed — was supposed to match the Sun Belt Conference’s best rushing team a…
This time, though, Jackson couldn’t look, as Warhawks kicker Jared Porter lined up for a 35-yard field goal with six seconds left, one that would doom UL’s hopes for a record-setting 10th win and cast a pall over a squad that’s headed for the Sun Belt championship game this weekend.
“I wasn’t even watching,” said Jackson, who had four catches for 66 yards in his final home game. “I was turned around and had my head down, I was just praying the whole time.”
Porter pulled the attempt wide left by three feet, the second time in as many seasons that a ULM kicker had missed a late attempt that would have changed the outcome of the game.
“It was like a dream almost, almost like a movie, and I really mean that,” Jackson said Monday. “Just picture being in the stadium and it’s going crazy, everybody’s screaming, and as soon as the ball’s snapped and you hear it go ‘boom,’ drop silence, you don’t hear nothing, and then you hear ‘he missed it.’ That’s the stuff you dream about when you’re a kid in the backyard playing with your cousins.”
It was no dream Saturday as the Cajuns (10-2, 7-1) won their sixth straight game to end the regular season, and they’ll pursue another dream this Saturday when they travel to Boone, North Carolina, to face defending champion and Sun Belt East Division champ Appalachian State in the second-ever championship game. That rematch had already been determined prior to the final regular-season weekend with UL winning the West for a second straight year, but that didn’t mean that head coach Billy Napier didn’t think for a minute that the dream was turning into a nightmare.
“We certainly weren’t at our best at times, in all three phases I think we made some mistakes,” Napier said Monday, “but I think it’s a sign of a mature group when you’re not quite at your best and you can find a way to win the game.
“I thought we made some huge plays at critical moments in the game. ULM, you gotta give a lot of respect for their program and team, certainly they had a lot at stake trying to get in position to be bowl eligible, and they played that way.”
Each of UL’s previous nine wins had come by double-figure margin, and the Cajuns hadn’t faced a situation like Saturday when the visiting Warhawks drove 99 yards in only 3:21 to take a 30-28 lead on Austin Vaughn’s 11-yard TD run with 7:56 left. Porter, though, missed the extra point that kept it a two-point game — UL’s first fourth-quarter deficit since its 17-7 loss to App State back on Oct. 9.
The Cajuns responded with a stirring 15-play, 62-yard drive, one in which they converted two third-down rushes and got a pivotal 14-yard fourth-down scramble from quarterback Levi Lewis with 3:35 left. That set up Artigue, a four-year starter who has now made 11 straight field goals after hitting only two-of-seven to start the season.
“We knew what was on the line,” said senior guard Kevin Dotson of the final drive. “We didn’t have to really say it to each other, we knew this is do-or-die. We have to get close enough to let Stevie do his job.”
Dotson, who’s headed for the East-West Shrine Bowl in January after the Cajuns’ bowl game, said his team got lucky on Lewis’ fourth-down ramble.
“We had called a different blocking protection, but Rico (Robinson) made his own adjustment and it ended up working out perfectly for us," Doston said. "He made the adjustment and our coaches didn’t know he’d done it, and it ended up working out in the end."
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…
Jackson, Artigue, Dotson and Robinson were part of a 20-player senior class who made their final Cajun Field appearance Saturday, and Napier gave them credit for the program reaching double-digit wins for the first time in its 119-year history.
“You can’t say enough about this group of seniors that we have,” Napier said. “I thought some of these guys maybe played the best game of their career. They were great in critical moments, great competitors, played extremely hard in the game. But there’s still lots of things to correct and certainly lots of things we can learn off of.”
It was late in the third quarter and it was already pretty obvious the ULM Warhawks weren’t going down easily Saturday at Cajun Field.
The Cajuns will be playing 20th-ranked Appalachian State (11-1, 7-1) for the fourth time in two seasons Saturday, and are still looking for their first-ever win in seven tries against the Mountaineers. UL lost three straight games in Boone in 2017 and 2018, including a 27-17 regular-season loss and a 30-19 setback in last year’s inaugural title game, prior to this year’s home loss two months ago.
“We’ve got a terrific opponent, one that we’re all very familiar with,” Napier said. “We’re certainly excited about the challenges that come with that. We put the (ULM) game to bed pretty quickly Sunday and I’ve been grinding away on this plan.”