This was the third straight year Louisiana-Lafayette has played in the New Orleans Bowl, but you wouldn't know it by how excited the Ragin' Cajuns fans were and from how competitive the game ended up being in a 24-21 win over Tulane on Saturday night.
Mark Hudspeth has now gone 9-4 in each of his three seasons at Louisiana, with wins in three straight bowl trips to the Big Easy. The crowd was blanketed in red, and Hudspeth got the team excited with a speech that was televised on ESPN during pregame. It could be easy to have a bit of a bowl destination hangover when you play in the same game for a few years in a row, but it seems like Louisiana embraces the New Orleans Bowl and wants to own it.
The only problem was Tulane stood in the way. This was the Green Wave's first bowl game since 2002 under then-coach Chris Scelfo. Understandably they were a bit out of it from the get-go. Tulane got the opening kick and went three and out; the Ragin' Cajuns scored on their first drive after the punt. Eventually the lead extended to 21-0 in the second quarter, and it looked like the rout was on before the Green Wave finally got on the board.
The Green Wave woke up thereafter, forcing a Terrance Broadway interception on the next possession and cut the lead down to 21-14 on Orleans Darkwa's (83 yards, 3 TD) second score of the game. Broadway broke his throwing arm on Nov. 30 and was a surprise start for Lousiana. Having Broadway seemed to put a jolt into the Cajuns offense early, which had scored 36 points in the past two games combined. The junior quarterback had no trouble using his feet to make plays, but he struggled to get touch on his throws, a symptom of not having played in almost a month. He finished 12-of-19 for 143 yards and two interceptions, including an inexcusable pick late in the third that led to Darkwa's third rushing touchdown to tie the game at 21, and he left the game late with cramping in his legs.
Louisiana's size up front gave Tulane's defense fits early, and with Nick Montana at quarterback the Green Wave couldn't help out enough offensively. Montana was removed in favor of Devin Powell in the second quarter, and that made a difference as Tulane started to make its run until Powell had a costly interception of his own with 11:04 to play, giving Louisiana great field position to retake the lead for good on a 27-yard Hunter Stover field goal.
Tulane had one last go at it and got the ball down to the 30-yard line, thanks in part to this absurdly lucky throw by Powell that probably should have picked off. Kicker Cairo Santos missed a 48-yarder wide left to tie.
It's commendable what Curtis Johnson has been able to do with the program after the Green Wave won just two games in each of the past two seasons. With a move to the American Athletic Conference and an on-campus stadium soon to come, continued progress would go a long way toward making Tulane football respectable again. Until then New Orleans just might belong to the Ragin' Cajuns, as it has for the past few years.