Louisiana has become one of the premier Group of 5 programs and a perennial contender in the Sun Belt.
Its climb as an FBS program took time, however. On this day 10 years ago, then Louisiana-Lafayette broke through with a milestone victory.
A 50-yard field goal from Brett Baer as time expired lifted the the Ragin’ Cajuns to their first bowl win. His clutch kick was the difference as Louisiana-Lafayette knocked off San Diego State, 32-30.
Setting the Stage
Entering the 2011 season, Louisiana-Lafayette had finished with a winning record just once — a 6-5 finish in 2005 — in the previous 15 years. The campaign however, would be a breakthrough one for the Ragin’ Cajuns. Under first-year head coach Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana-Lafayette was 8-4 as it arrived at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Dec. 17, 2011.
San Diego State also came in with a record of 8-4. The Aztecs were 5-point favorites, but fell into a big hole. With time ticking away, it looked as though San Diego State had rallied for victory.
Baer Plays Hero
Louisiana-Lafayette appeared to be in the midst of letting a 16-point lead slip away as the clock ticked under a minute. Baer’s short field goal with 2:09 left had pushed the Ragin’ Cajuns’ lead to 29-24, but at that point in the game, they had no answer for the San Diego State offense.
As San Diego State faced 4th-and-2 from its own 39-yard-line, Louisiana-Lafayette was one stop from victory. A pass interference call however, kept the Aztecs’ hopes alive.
From there, quarterback Ryan Lindley used his arm and legs to pick apart the Louisiana-Lafayette defense. Lindley finished with 413 yards passing and his final throw of the night looked like it would be the game-winner. The 12-yard toss to Colin Lockett gave the Aztecs a 30-29 lead with 35 seconds to go.
A failed 2-point conversion however, kept the door open for the Ragin’ Cajuns to win it in regulation.
Blaine Gautier passed for 470 yards for Louisiana-Lafayette. With the clock against him, he needed just three throws to put Louisiana-Lafayette into field goal range.
Following completions of 13 and 26 yards to Javone Lawson, his 5-yard toss to Harry Peoples put Louisiana-Lafayette at the 38-yard-line of San Diego State. Baer was sent out to try a 55-yard field goal with just four seconds remaining.
Before the attempt however, San Diego State was penalized five yards for simulating the snap count. The call made the attempt 50 yards instead of 55.
Baer took advantage.
Before his kick even split the uprights, Baer’s celebration had began. His 50-yard make had give the Ragin’ Cajuns their first bowl win as an FBS school.
San Diego State took an early lead with a field goal, but Louisiana-Lafayette responded with 19 straight points. Gautier threw touchdown passes to Lawson and Ladarius Green and Darryl Surgent returned a punt 87 yards for a score.
Down 19-3 early in the third quarter, San Diego State crawled to within two by period’s end. Lindley hit Lockett for a pair of 16-yard touchdown passes.
Gautier’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Lawson early in the fourth pushed the lead back to nine, but Adam Muema’s 5-yard touchdown with less than six minutes to go made it a 26-24 game.
In addition to big games from the quarterbacks, three receivers went over 100 yards. Dylan Denso led the Aztecs with 109 yards while Lockett caught three touchdowns.
For Louisiana-Lafayette, Lawson finished with game-highs of nine catches for 193 yards to go with the two scores. Green caught five passes for 121 yards and the aforementioned touchdown.
The loss resulted in an 8-5 finish for San Diego State under first-year head coach Rocky Long. It remains its only appearance in the New Orleans Bowl.
For Louisiana-Lafayette, the victory gave it nine wins for the season — the most since 1976. Unfortunately, eight of the wins and the bowl victory would later be vacated.
For the players and coaches however, they’ll always view themselves as the team that got the Ragin’ Cajuns their first bowl win. It came on this day a decade ago.
Mike Ferguson is the managing editor for Fifth Quarter. Be sure to follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeWFerguson. Follow all of Mike’s work by liking his Facebook page.