2011 New Orleans Bowl Recap
Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns vs San Diego State Aztecs - Louisiana-Lafayette 32, San Diego State 30
The Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns were as cooked as a homestyle dish created by Justin Wilson or other Louisiana chefs who revel in the use of cayenne pepper. The Cajuns had outplayed the San Diego State Aztecs for most of the 2011 New Orleans Bowl inside the Superdome, but when they lost hold of multiple red-zone possessions and gave their opponent an opening, the Aztecs stole a late lead and appeared ready to make off with a large-scale theft inside the world’s largest domed structure. Supreme heartbreak and heartburn were on the menu for ULL in its first-ever bowl appearance, but just when the outlook couldn’t have been any dimmer, a pre-Christmas miracle emerged in vivid relief.
A university community will never forget it.
Here was the scene under the big top in the Big Easy: Louisiana-Lafayette, a school located just a two-hour drive from New Orleans, brought roughly 20,000 fans to this game, the first postseason passion play in a young football program’s existence. First-year coach Mark Hudspeth turned ULL into an eight-win team which was more than worthy of a bowl bid even within college football’s bloated bowl structure. The Ragin’ Cajuns won a number of close shootouts in 2011, and for most of the evening, it seemed that they were going to hold off San Diego State and its formidable passing attack, led by quarterback Ryan Lindley. ULL remained a step ahead of the Aztecs through 57 minutes, as Ragin’ Cajun quarterback Blaine Gautier continually threw vertical strikes to receivers who embarrassed San Diego State’s corners and safeties. ULL, up 26-24, reached the SDSU 3-yard line with three minutes left, and a putaway touchdown appeared in the cards.
However, that’s when the worm turned on Saturday night. San Diego State stopped two fade passes and ultimately forced the Cajuns to kick a field goal which held minimal value. SDSU was still in the fight, trailing 29-24, and Lindley got his hands on the ball with a chance to take the lead. After getting bailed out on a questionable pass interference call on a 4th and 2 play near midfield, the Aztecs – given an extra chance at a last-minute comeback – didn’t waste their good fortune. Lindley hit receiver Colin Lockett with a 12-yard scoring strike to give San Diego State a 30-29 lead with 35 seconds left. Yes, San Diego State blew the 2-point conversion when an easy pass completion was overturned due to the fact that the receiver needlessly stepped out of bounds just before coming back in play to make the catch, but given the struggles of ULL’s kicking game, it seemed that the 2-point failure wouldn’t matter in the end.
Oh, but it did.
ULL kicker Brett Baer had suffered through a horrible evening in New Orleans. He missed one extra point and endured a blocked PAT after another ULL touchdown. Baer later tried a 49-yard field goal in the third quarter which was short of the crossbar. The kick didn’t enter the official play-by-play log, however, because ULL committed a false start before the attempt. At any rate, the notion of kicking anything more than a 45-yard field goal invited the prospect of near-certain defeat for the Ragin’ Cajuns. Therefore, when ULL reached the SDSU 37-yard line with four seconds left, Baer had to attempt a 55-yard boot, seemingly out of his range.
Then this game took a final, fateful plot twist.
San Diego State’s defensive linemen moved laterally from a mobile stance without a plant hand attached to the ground. This practice is called “illegal stemming,” because it tries to distract the center and create movement by the offensive line. SDSU handed ULL five yards, but what it also did was give Baer just a little more belief that he could make one adrenaline-fueled kick.
That’s precisely what he proceeded to do. Given an extra dose of confidence, Baer hit a ball that squeezed just inside the left upright and cleared the crossbar by about five to six yards. It probably would have been good from 55 yards, but that’s a hypothetical ULL didn’t have to worry about. Baer ran like a madman across the Superdome field and was chased by dozens of teammates while the Ragin’ Cajun fan base exploded into hysterics. A school had won its first bowl game, and a night of pure magic was created near the French Quarter.
By: Matt Zemek
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