LAFAYETTE – Just when the fat lady was about to sing, the improbable happened. And victory, which seemed assured with a two-touchdown lead and five minutes to play, suddenly hung in the balance.
Florida Atlantic mounted a comeback, tied the game and would have spoiled a Louisiana Saturday night had it not been for a noteworthy group of Cajuns who defeated the Owls 37-34 with a two-minute drive and a last-second field goal from Brett Baer.
Blaine Gautier and his Cajun offensive mates put together a game-winning 80 yard drive to make sure that the aforementioned singer would eventually get her chance.
And when she sang, it was perhaps the sweetest sound Mark Hudspeth and the twelfth largest crowd in Cajun Field history might have heard in their entire lives. The Cajuns (4-1, 2-0) had moved into first place in the Sun Belt Conference standings, and the fans were coming unhinged in a wild celebration at Cajun Field.
“We are still not playing our best football. We are so young, making freshmen mistakes,” Hudspeth said. “But when the game is on the line, our kids believe that they are going to find a way to win the game. And they did just that."
“We are playing to win every game this year. And we moved it on down the field with our two-minute offense. I felt we executed it as well as we possible could and got the field goal to win the game,” Hudspeth explained.
Gautier, who directed that two-minute offense, was 26-33 passing for 329 yards. Alonzo Harris and Qyen Griffin combined for 105 yards rushing to lift the Cajuns. WR Harry Peoples was on the receiving end of 14 Gautier passes for a total of 176 yards, an effort the likes of which have not been seen here since the Brandon Stokley era.
It was a sloppy game with penalties and fumbles and other mistakes by the young Cajuns, but their effort got the attention of FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger.
“Obviously, they have improved their football team a great deal since last year,” Schnellenberger said. “It made me believe that this is a football team ready to challenge.” And challenge they did, in spite of the mistakes, which started early—for both teams.
Aided by a roughing-the-kicker penalty that kept its first drive alive, Louisiana scored first as Gautier found Peoples open between two defenders and the speedy junior from Winona, MS struggled free to find the end zone.
The six-play, 74-yard drive was the first stanza's only scoring until FAU kicker Vinnie Zaccario punched a 26-yard field goal through the uprights with 3:25 remaining to make it 7-3. Two minutes later, Owl QB Graham Wilbert found TE Darian Williams on a 24-yard flag route to give FAU the lead.
Both FAU scores came as the result of Cajun miscues, the first a Gautier fumble inside the Cajun 10, the second a special teams penalty that gave the Owls excellent field position to start their 4-play, 55-yard touchdown drive.
FAU added a quick score nine minutes into the second quarter as the Owls converted another Cajun fumble into a touchdown, capping a five play drive that covered 70 yards and erased a mere minute and a half from the stadium clock.
Louisiana narrowed the deficit when WR Darryl Surgent found the pot of gold under a Gautier rainbow for a 42-yard scoring strike at the 7:22 mark. Griffin was a major contributor on the five play, 80-yard march, lugging the pigskin three times through the teeth of the stout FAU defense for gains of 2, 9, and 2 yards.
A Cajun defensive stand at the Owl 39 returned the ball to the home team, and Griffin carried five more times before scoring on a dive from the two yard line as the Cajuns regained the lead. A 36-yard Zaccario field goal completed first half scoring as UL headed into the locker room after outscoring the visitors 21-20 in a flag-filled first half.
Brett Baer converted on his third field goal attempt in the first 9 minutes of the third period to give Louisiana a 24-20 lead. Prior to the two misses, Baer had been a perfect 13-for-13 on the season.
Harris bulled his way over from the 9 yard line on the 14th play of a 98-yard drive, and Baer tacked on the extra point with 12:58 left in the fourth quarter to give the Cajuns a 31-20 lead.
When Baer added another FG to make it 34-20, the fat lady began warming up. But her aria was interrupted by a group of Owls who tried desperately to add a different ending to their coach's swan song.
It was not to be.