This game really couldn't have started much better for Idaho (1-2 SBC, 2-7). The Vandals have had a scoring slump lately, but jumped out to a commanding 21-7 lead going into the second quarter in front of 12,647 Cajun fans at "The Swamp."
The scoring drives included a 5 play, 44 yard series (17 yard TD pass to redshirt freshman Jeff Stowe), a 6 play 71 yard drive (10 yard TD pass to Eric Hunter), and a 5 play 35 yard drive (5 yard TD pass to Christopher Belser). In between Idaho's 2nd and 3rd touchdown drives, the Cajuns connected on a 75 yard touchdown strike. But Idaho rebounded to score, and went into the second quarter rolling.
Or so it would seem.
Throughout the second quarter Idaho never scored. The University of Louisiana - Lafayette (1-3 SBC, 2-7), on the other hand, narrowed the deficit to 21-17, scoring a touchdown at the beginning of the second quarter, and a field goal with 8 seconds left in the half.
After halftime, Idaho came out and put together an impressive 10 play, 70 yard drive that consumed almost 4 minutes off the clock, and again gave Idaho an 11 point advantage, up 28-17. But the lead would not be enough. Nor would the fact that our defense held the Cajuns scoreless throughout the entire 3rd quarter.
The lead seemed essentially sealed, especially when starting Cajun quarterback Jon Van Cleave injured his ankle early in the fourth period, and the Cajun's had to turn to JC transfer Eric Rekieta, a junior who has played sparingly this season. Up until this point, Van Cleave had had a relatively pedestrian afternoon, going 17 of 32 for 247 yards, with 2 TDs and 1 interception.
But the Cajun's, under first year head coach Rickey Bustle, would rally around Rekieta on this, UL-L's Homecoming, and he would lead them to 2 fourth quarter touchdowns and ultimately the game winner.
Oddly enough, the Cajuns really had nothing to play for, except pride and building some momentum for next season. It was Idaho that was still in the Title hunt, not Lafayette. But it was the Cajuns seizing the day, and taking advantage of the opportunities they had to win this game.
For Idaho this is again a disappointing loss in a season that seems exceptionally full of them. A year ago we were averaging 49 points per conference game and searching desperately for a defense. This year, under first year Defensive Coordinator Ed Lamb the team has improved enough to at least keep us in these games. UL-L's scores during this game (4 TDs, 1 FG) came on drives of 17, 35, 53, 77 and 85 yards. Idaho sacked their quarterback 6 times, picked off a pass (Jordan Kramer got his first of the year), and our team was only penalized 40 yards on the day. Blair Lewis ran for 89 yards and a TD, and caught 5 passes for 51 yards.
But it woudn't be enough
Even more frustrating, the Cajuns did not have a lead in this game at any time, until the final 49 seconds. They would take the lead on a grinding, length of the field, 14 play, 85 yard drive to steal the win.
The game itself was as evenly matched as the final score would indicate. Idaho had 417 total yards, UL-L had 424. Idaho had 98 yards rushing, UL-L had 96. Idaho QB Brian Lindgren would end the day with 319 yards passing, going 24 of 39 and heaving 3 touchdowns. UL-L's QBs would combine for 328 yards passing, going 23-41 and throwing and throwing 3 TDs.
But turnovers would be the backbreaker for the Vandals. Brian threw 3 interceptions against one of the better defensive backfields in the Sun Belt, and we also gave up a fumble. As is almost always the case, most of these turnovers happened at particularly inopportune times during the game, killing good drives and scoring opportunities. A handful of missed catches, blocks, tackles, coverage assignments, and some questionable play calls also contributed, of course. Unfortunately for the team, these all combined to undermine what had been a superb 1st quarter performance by this group of athletes.
Now, the Vandals have a week to try to put this loss behind them and prepare for what is the best defense the Sun Belt has to offer. In addition to being point stingy, North Texas hasn't given up a touchdown in 2 Conference games, and is among the best defensive units in the nation. They've also rectified their offense, and have averaged around 35 points per game their last 2 games.
Playing for pride is all the team has left for this season. Hopefully that will be enough to finish strong this year, and start rebuilding for next season.
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