ULM controlled its own bowl fate in 2005 when Louisiana-Lafayette came calling on Nov. 26. The Warhawks needed the win to wrap up sole ownership of the Sun Belt Conference's championship and the coveted New Orleans Bowl berth. ULL crushed those hopes with a decisive 54-21 victory at Malone Stadium, forcing ULM to share the title and sending tri-champ Arkansas State to the bowl game.
The scenario isn't so simple five years later, but ULM (5-6, 4-3) can put itself in position for its first postseason bowl with a win over ULL. Kickoff is 2:30 p.m.
ULM's first-year coach Todd Berry went beyond bowl implications while discussing the stakes with his team this week.
"Because it's an in-state rivalry, this game is one that you have to live with," Berry said. "It's Senior Day with our seniors finishing out their last game at home. There should be some significance to that. For us the bowl talk and all those other types of things, there's some motivation there."
The young Warhawks have exceeded expectations and are ahead of schedule under Berry.
"We're not necessarily more talented than anybody else," Berry said. "And so you have to be on an emotional high every week. That's difficult for older players to do, let alone younger players. But I think our players have done a great job in terms of approaching each week and trying to get better."
While ULM is chasing bowl eligibility, the reeling Ragin' Cajuns (2-9, 2-5) have lost seven straight games entering their season finale.
"They've got a lot to play for,"acknowledged ninth-year head coach Rickey Bustle, whose job is in jeopardy according to published reports from Lafayette.
Bustle has a year left on his contract but could be coaching his final game for ULL. Media members covering his weekly press conference were instructed not to ask about his job security. Bustle also confirmed that he recently sold his home, although he explained that it was a planned move to downsize from a five-bedroom house.
Injuries have ravaged the ULL roster and the Cajuns have turned to young or inexperienced players, without the same positive results as ULM. By one count, the Cajuns have seen 17 players who were starters go down with injuries.
"We've had so many injuries and they've hit our seniors," Bustle said this week during the Sun Belt media teleconference. "We're playing over 34 underclassmen and they're learning by fire, I guess."
While ULM freshman quarterback Kolton Browning has started every game of his breakout campaign, ULL has lacked continuity at the position because of injuries.
Junior Chris Masson started 20 consecutive games prior to missing the Ole Miss game Nov. 6 with an injury and ranks sixth in school history in passing yardage. Junior Brad McGuire filled in for the injured Masson at Ohio and threw for 384 yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore Blaine Gautier made his first career start at FAU two weeks ago and threw for 254 yards and two touchdowns. Last week Gautier rushed for a game-high 112 yards in a loss to FIU.
"We've lost two quarterbacks and our third one played the last two games," Bustle said. "But the biggest thing is the number of injuries that we've had. I think we've had 12 or 13 operations. It hit our seniors hard. It's always tough to see your seniors go down. You kind of lose that leadership."
The Cajuns still feature dangerous playmaking tight end Ladarius Green. A preseason All-Sun Belt pick, and a semifinalist for the 2010 Mackey Award, Green ranks as the nation's leading tight end with six receiving touchdowns. In nine games this season, Green has 38 catches for 674 yards and holds the school record for career receptions (92) and career receiving yards (1,475).
The Warhawks have lost their last two games to ULL but lead the overall series 23-22. ULM has won five of the last eight meetings with the Cajuns and holds a 10-8 advantage in games played in Monroe.
The Cajuns and Warhawks have met in the season finale seven times, including five times in Sun Belt play. ULM is 5-2 in those games.