Louisiana-Lafayette’s beleaguered defense once again ran into a quarterback that it couldn’t handle.
This time, it was Louisiana-Monroe sophomore Caleb Evans, who ran for a school-record-tying five scores and threw for 343 yards in leading the visiting Warhawks to a wild 56-50 double overtime win over the Ragin’ Cajuns in the Sun Belt Conference opener for both teams.
ULM (1-2, 1-0) rolled up 593 yards against the nation’s lowest-ranked defense, and needed all of them after Cajuns backup quarterback Andre Nunez entered the game in the second quarter and gave the hosts a spark. In fact, Nunez led UL-Lafayette to 21 points in the final 7:03 of regulation to force overtime.
But after the two teams swapped scores in the first extra period, Cajuns backup kicker Calvin Linden missed on a 39-yard field goal, and moments ULM’s Derrick Gore burst up the middle for a winning 8-yard touchdown.
Evans completed 28-of-34 passes, rarely under any pressure, for 343 yards. But the quarterback from Mansfield, Texas, did even more damage with his feet in leading ULM to its highest point total in the history of the 52-game series. It was also the most points the Cajuns (1-3) allowed at home since 1997.
We just needed a win,” said ULM coach Matt Viator. “We’ll learn how to hang on to a lead later on, tonight we needed a win. We were in good shape and they (UL-Lafayette) battled back, but we made the plans we had to.”
The Cajuns had won eight of the past nine meetings, but never led Saturday in falling behind 16-0 in the game’s first 17 minutes. UL-Lafayette trailed 43-22 after Evans’ fifth score, a six-yard run with 9:35 left, but the Cajuns had marches of 83, 37 and 84 yards capped by Trey Ragas’ one-yard run and Nunez’ scoring passes to Jerrod Jackson and Ja’Marcus Bradley.
The last of those came with no time left on the clock to force the first overtime at Cajun Field in 10 seasons. Evans hit R. J. Turner for a 15-yard touchdown, but Nunez tied the game with a six-yard scoring run that forced the second extra period.
“It was too little, too late,” said Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth, losing for only the second time in seven meetings with ULM. “We found a way to get back in it late, we just took a little too long to get going. Defensively, we didn’t play well enough to win, pure and simple.”
ULM rolled up 310 yards on the Cajuns’ struggling defense in the first half alone, with 277 of those coming in four consecutive lengthy marches that provided the Warhawks’ three first-half touchdowns. Evans’ scoring runs of seven and 38 yards came on opposite sides of a safety recorded when ULM safety Nick Ingram sacked UL-Lafayette starter Jordan Davis in the end zone early in the second period.
That brought on Nunez, who led a pair of scoring marches sandwiched around Gore’s two-yard scoring run. Freshman Elijah Mitchell, who finished with 107 rush yards, capped those drives with scoring runs of one and 10 yards.
However, Evans — who finished with 129 rush yards — scored three times in a nine-minute period on runs of 7, 5 and 6 yards to make it a three-score game and tie last year’s teammate Korian Reynaud’s school record for single-game touchdowns.
“He gives us another element,” Viator said of Evans, who split time with returning starter Garrett Smith through ULM’s first two games. “We decided to go with him because the quarterback running had hurt them (UL-Lafayette) in their first two games. He’s only going to get better.”
Nunez, a junior college transfer seeing his first action, hit on 22-of-37 passes for 287 yards and the two fourth-quarter scores. He threw for 93 yards in the final drive that covered the final 1:56, hitting all five of his passes including a scrambling final-play completion when he found Bradley wide open in the back of the end zone.
“Andre had an incredible play to find Ja’Marcus,” Hudspeth said. “But give their quarterback (Evans) credit. He far exceeded what I thought he could do. He was hard to stop in the running game.”