LAFAYETTE – Alonzo Harris' performance against New Mexico State before a festive Homecoming crowd on Saturday would have made former Ragin' Cajun great Brian Mitchell proud.
Harris scored on runs of 2,6, 5 and 3 yards before his 30-yard run in the final minute helped Louisiana erase a 21-point second-quarter deficit and post a 49-35 victory over the Aggies before an announced crowd of 30,028 – the seventh-largest crowd in Cajun Field history.
The junior running back gained 106 yards on 16 carries as Louisiana (6-2) scored 35 unanswered points after falling behind 28-7 in the second quarter. His five-touchdown performance against NMSU (1-8) tied the single-game, school record that was previously set by Mitchell in a 42-33 win over Lamar on Nov. 11, 1989.
Harris, who increased his total of career rushing touchdowns to 30, also increased his season rushing TD total to 12, tying him with former Cajun Tyrell Fenroy for the fifth-best total in single-season history.
Terrance Broadway completed 14 of 20 passes for 231 yards and a touchdown as Louisiana gained 440 yards of total offense, including 209 on the ground. Jamal Robinson and James Butler caught four passes each for the Ragin' Cajuns and Elijah McGuire added 72 yards on the ground with a touchdown.
Harris' third touchdown of the game, a 5-yard run up the middle, capped a four-play, 58-yard drive that was aided by a 44-yard pass from Broadway to Robinson to the NMSU 14. Harris added his fourth TD, which tied the single-game record for TDs by a running back, one play after Darius Barksdale picked off an Andrew McDonald pass and returned it 22 yards to the NMSU 3.
Harris sealed the win for the Ragin' Cajuns after Jake Capraro's attempted on-side kick with 2:23 remaining failed to go the required 10 yards. Harris recorded runs of 13 and 1 yard on the ensuing drive and then scored on the following play as he bounced off the left side, raced down the sideline and made a diving attempt at the pylon for his record-tying run.
The victory, which made Louisiana bowl eligible for the third straight season, was the school's sixth straight win matching the 2011 squad that finished 9-4 overall and defeated San Diego State in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.
But for the majority of the first half for the Ragin' Cajuns, it wasn't easy.
NMSU, which scored on its first four possessions of the game, controlled the football for over 12 minutes in the first quarter while accumulating 249 yards of total offense, including 218 through the air. But the Cajun defense adjusted the rest of the night, holding NMSU to 100 yards of total offense over the next two periods while forcing six Aggie punts and an interception in their final eight drives.
The Aggies took the opening possession and drove 75 yards in 11 plays on its initial drive with McDonald capping it off with a 1-yard scoring plunge. McDonald, who was 4-for-4 on the drive, connected with Austin Franklin on a 17-yard pass on second-and-9 to the UL 46
After forcing the Ragin' Cajuns to punt on their opening drive, NMSU scored again for a 14-0 lead after taking over at its own 11. On third-and-8 at NMSU 13, McDonald connected with Franklin on a 27-yard pass to the NMSU before the duo paired up again two plays later when Franklin caught a slant pass up the middle and raced untouched to the end zone for a 65-yard scoring pass.
Louisiana got the board on its next possession as it needed 14 seconds to respond with Broadway finding Darryl Surgent behind the NMSU defense and connecting on a 68-yard scoring pass with 4:37 remaining in the first quarter.
But NMSU answered on its next possession as it drove 85 yards in eight plays with McDonald finding Travaughn Colwell up the middle for a 36-yard TD strike with 48 seconds remaining for a 21-7 advantage. McDonald kept the drive alive with a 14-yard pass to Adam Shapiro on second-and-13 to the UL 36 before the Aggies scored two plays later.
"I told our team that I thought that (New Mexico State) was better than their record indicated," Louisiana head coach Mark Hudspeth said. "They came out and had a couple things they were doing offensively with the wildcat and with the QB that didn't play last week. I'm giving them some credit. They took care of the ball offensively and they turned the game plan on us and kept the ball the whole first half.
"We didn't play as well in a lot of areas that we have been playing well. We had a bad snap on an extra point, defensively early in the game we had a hard time stopping them, and a couple of turnovers. We didn't play very sharp, but we found out tonight that when things aren't going great, our team has some resiliency and can overcome adversity."
The Aggies kept up their momentum after forcing Louisiana to punt, driving 67 yards in nine plays with Xavier Hall scoring on a 1-yard plunge with 9:23 remaining in the half. Franklin opened the drive with a 12-yard run, Hall added an 11-yard scamper and Colwell a 10-yard keeper before the Aggies converted a pair of key plays to keep the drive alive.
McDonald found Franklin on a 7-yard pass on third-and-7 to the UL 24 before finding Andrew Dean on the following play with a 20-yard strike to the UL 4 before Hall scored two plays later for a 28-7 lead.
Louisiana drove 61 yards in 10 plays with Harris scoring on a 2-yard run with 5:00 remaining to cut the NMSU lead in half. Broadway and Harris combined for 22 yards on the ground on the Ragin' Cajuns first three plays of the drive before Broadway hit Butler on passes of 13 and 9 yards to the NMSU 14.
Justin Hamilton keyed Louisiana's first defensive stop of the day when he pressured McDonald into a near fumble on the Aggies' first play at the NMSU 18. The Ragin' Cajuns held on a pair of Aggie rushing attempts and forced a punt with 3:24 remaining. Louisiana drove as far as the NMSU 37, but a holding penalty pushed the ball back to the NMSU 47 and Broadway was eventually sacked by Trashaun Nixon on third-and-9 to stall the drive.
"You're not going to win every game easily and you're not going to play perfectly every game, it's how you react when adversity strikes you, not only in football but in the game of life too," Hudspeth said. "That's what I told the guys in the locker room, this won't be the first time adversity strikes, so it shows that if it strikes again, if we can overcome it, and get back in the game and win."
Harris added his second touchdown of the game when his 6-yard scoring run capped a 9-play, 85-yard drive and cut the NMSU lead to 28-20 with 9:22 remaining in the third quarter. Broadway kept the drive alive for the Ragin' Cajuns after he found Jacob Maxwell for a 22-yard gain on third-and-6 to the NMSU 48. Broadway added passes of 21 yards to Butler and eight yards to Surgent before Harris scored two plays later.
After a 31-yard punt by NMSU's Cayle Chapman-Brown was downed at the Louisiana 38, the Ragin' Cajuns needed four plays to find the end zone. Harris recorded an 8-yard run on first down before converting with a 3-yard run two plays later. On the following play, McGuire took a middle handoff from Broadway, stutter-stepped through the NMSU defense and raced 51 yards with 6:35 remaining to cut the lead to 28-27.
NMSU's Kawe Johnson intercepted a Broadway pass at the UL 49 with 6:47 remaining and the Aggies took nine plays to reach the end zone. McDonald capped off the drive when he found Franklin on a 7-yard scoring pass on fourth-and-6 with 2:23 remaining, but the Cajuns took possession after NMSU's failed on-side kick that led to Harris' final score.
McDonald completed 24 of 34 passes for 327 yards and three touchdowns for NMSU, which will compete as a football-only member in the Sun Belt Conference in 2014. Franklin, who caught a career-high 11 passes last week in a win over Division I FCS member Abilene Christian, caught 13 passes for 140 yards with a pair of TD receptions for the Aggies.
Louisiana will return to action on Thursday when it plays host to Sun Belt Conference foe Troy in a 6:30 p.m. contest at Cajun Field. The game will be televised live on ESPNU.
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