Five years ago, UL-Lafayette and Tulane played the first all-Louisiana bowl game in NCAA history, drawing a record 54,728 fans to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.
This time, the teams will bring the bayou 750 miles east when the Ragin’ Cajuns and the Green Wave square off in the fourth AutoNation Cure Bowl in Orlando, Florida.
“We’re certainly excited about the challenge that comes with playing Tulane,” said first-year Cajuns coach Billy Napier. “It’s going to be a great opportunity to celebrate a great season. Our players and staff have done a great job, and the bowl game is a bit of a reward for that.
“But certainly we’re going to take the opponent seriously and prepare, and try to finish the season the right way. I think it’s important that we finish strong and go out on a good note for our seniors, and in particular to reflect the work that we’ve put into this season.”
Napier and the Cajuns received their official invitation Saturday afternoon in their post-game locker room, not long after the 30-19 loss to Appalachian State in the inaugural Sun Belt Conference football championship game. It had been rumored that the Green Wave would be their bowl opponent once UCF defeated Memphis on Saturday to win the American Athletic Conference title, and confirmation of that came Sunday.
App State is headed to the New Orleans Bowl as the Sun Belt champion and will face Middle Tennessee, while the loser of Saturday’s Sun Belt title game was automatically slotted into the Cure Bowl.
The Green Wave (6-6) and the Cajuns compiled the same conference record, with Tulane tying for the top spot in the AAC’s West Division at 5-3 but missing the title game in a three-way tiebreaker — even though they beat West representative Memphis 40-24 during the season.
UL-Lafayette went 5-3 in the Sun Belt West, but the Cajuns won their tiebreaker courtesy of a sweep of their West Division rivals to claim a spot in the title game. UL-Lafayette won six of its final eight after a 1-3 start, while Tulane won four of its last five to reach bowl eligibility.
“We have tremendous respect for Tulane and what coach (Wilie) Fritz and what he’s done, not only at Tulane but certainly at one of our Sun Belt schools at Georgia Southern,” Napier said. “They play a high level of football, and their team has beaten some worthy opponents. They’ll present a number of challenges for us.”
The Cure Bowl is one of the openers of the bowl season, with five bowl games to be played on Saturday, Dec. 15. Kickoff for the Cure Bowl — the only NCAA bowl game with a single charity beneficiary, with funds going to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation — is 12:30 p.m. (CST) at Camping World Stadium.
Napier said the charity aspect of the game, which has raised over $3.5 million for breast-cancer research in its three-year existence, makes his team’s trip even more special.
“It’s opportunity for the university and the people in Acadiana to get behind the cause associated with this game, which I think is really unique,” he said. “This bowl was founded to raise money for cancer research and battle cancer, which I think we can all identify with. We’ve all had people in our lives that at some point or another have faced cancer, so we’re excited about this opportunity.”
UL-Lafayette took a 24-21 win over Tulane in that 2013 New Orleans Bowl, one that wasn’t decided until Green Wave kicker and 2012 Lou Groza Award winner Cairo Santos missed a 48-yard field goal with 13 seconds left that would have forced overtime. That game was the third of four straight New Orleans Bowl wins for the Cajuns from 2011-14, becoming the first team in NCAA history to win the same bowl game in four straight years.
The Cure Bowl, one of five bowls affiliated with the Sun Belt, will mark UL-Lafayette’s first appearance in a Division I bowl other than the New Orleans game. Because of that, Napier said it was important that a solid contingent of UL-Lafayette fans and followers follow the team and support the bowl.
“It will certainly be a good indicator of what we’re capable of,” he said. “There will be an effort to not only get our fans and people that support UL to travel to Orlando, but also to get involved with the attempt to raise money for a great cause, through ticket sales and donations.
“At some point, there will be a certain level of pride associated with how we play football and represent this university and this region, so I would expect we’ll have a good following and get behind the cause associated with the game."
UL-Lafayette and Tulane have played once since that 2013 bowl game, and that one was even closer than the bowl. The Green Wave survived in a 41-39 quadruple-overtime game at Yulman Stadium in 2016 in the longest game in Cajuns football history. The Cajuns went back to the New Orleans Bowl that year but lost 28-21 to Southern Mississippi in their last bowl appearance.