Matt Sullivan ragincajuns.com
NEW ORLEANS – Two years ago, a made last-second field goal gave Louisiana its first bowl victory since 1944. Two years, and a pair of bowl victories later, a missed field goal in the final seconds would give the Cajuns their third straight postseason victory.
Hunter Stover kicked a 27-yard field goal – the first of his collegiate career – with 9:56 remaining and the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns earned its third straight bowl victory when Tulane's Cairo Santos missed a potential tying 48-yard field goal in a 24-21 win over the Green Wave before an R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl-record crowd of 54,728 Saturday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The dramatic victory in its postseason home away from home helped Louisiana (9-4) claim its third consecutive nine-win season while becoming the first school in New Orleans Bowl history to win three consecutive games.
Stover, who served as the Cajuns primary kickoff specialist before assuming all kicking duties against South Alabama, helped Louisiana stave off a furious comeback by Tulane (7-6) after Sean Thomas picked off his second pass of the game at the Tulane 28. The junior broke up a 21-21 contest after Terrance Broadway was injured on a three-yard scramble on third-and-10 to the Tulane 10.
Tulane, playing in its final game after 38 years in the iconic downtown building, had one final chance to send the game to overtime after a Daniel Cadona punt was downed at the Tulane 5 with 1:35 remaining. Devin Powell connected with Justyn Shackleford on a 34-yard pass on third-and-10 to the Tulane 39 before a 27-yard pass to Ryan Grant pushed the ball to the Cajuns 34.
Powell, who completed 10 of 21 passes for 223 yards, found Kendrick Banks on a nine-yard catch to the Cajuns 25 before Chris Hill made a key defensive stop for Louisiana with a five-yard sack forcing Tulane to call its final timeout with 13 seconds left.
The Green Wave was forced to bring in Santos, the school's all-time leader in field goal percentage (.792) and 2012 Lou Groza winner, to attempt a potential game-tying field goal. After Louisiana called its final timeout, Santos pushed his attempt left of the upright, allowing the Cajuns to run out the clock.
After gaining 568 and 591 yards in victories over San Diego State (2011) and East Carolina (2012), Louisiana finished with 325 yards of total offense, including 168 on the ground. The Cajun defense picked off three Tulane passes with Thomas tying a bowl-record with two interceptions and Corey Trim returning an interception 82 yards to set a bowl record.
Terrance Broadway, who returned to the lineup after suffering a broken arm in the Cajuns' home finale against ULM on Nov. 30, completed 12 of 19 passes for 143 yards while Elijah McGuire rushed for 45 yards on 11 carries while grabbing seven passes for 94. Alonzo Harris added 74 yards on the ground for Louisiana, who controlled the ball of over 36 minutes and held Tulane to 3-for-12 on third-down.
Louisiana scored on its opening possession, as the Cajuns drove 65 yards in six plays, to grab a 7-0 lead. Broadway put his right arm to the test on the Cajuns' first third-down attempt of the game as he connected with Jamal Robinson for a nine-yard gain on third-and-7 to the Cajuns 47.
Two plays later, Broadway connected with McGuire on a 17-yard pass to the Tulane 27 and the freshman scored on the following play when he raced around the right side for his eighth touchdown of the year.
The Cajun defense would get into the act later in the quarter after Tulane started at its own 6-yard line. Nick Montana connected with Ryan Grant on an 11-yard gain before hitting Rob Kelley for 26 yards to the Tulane 48 before Thomas picked off a Grant pass on an end-around and returned it 21 yards to the Cajuns 27.
That led to a six-play, 73-yard drive by Louisiana with Harris capping the possession with a 15-yard drive with 2:10 remaining in the first quarter. Broadway, who completed his first five passes, opened the drive with a 29-yard pass to McGuire to the Tulane 44 before Jalen Nixon eventually gained three yard on third-and-1 to the Tulane 31.
Broadway found Daryl Surgent for a two-yard completion to the Tulane 30, and after a 15-yard penalty for a late hit by Tulane's Derrick Strozier, Harris scored on a 15-yard run up the middle for his 13th TD of the season to give Louisiana a 14-0 lead.
Tulane received good field position on its next drive, starting at its own 40 and moving deep into Cajuns territory. The Green Wave reached the Louisiana 18 on a 4-yard run by Montana before Trim stepped in front of Montana's pass to the left flat on the following play and raced 82 yards untouched for a 21-0 lead with 12:31 remaining in the second quarter.
The Green Wave got on the scoreboard two possessions later as they went 71 yards in nine plays to cut the lead to 21-7. Tulane converted on fourth-and-3 at the Tulane 47 when Devin Powell hit Devon Breaux on a 42-yard pass to the Cajuns 11. Three plays later, Orleans Darkwa scored on 1-yard plunge with 3:55 remaining in the half.
After Jordan Sullen picked off a Broadway pass at the Tulane 35, the Green Wave cut the lead to 21-14 with 1:58 remaining, needing two plays to reach the end zone. Powell hit Grant on 49-yard strike to the Louisiana 16 before Darkwa scored two plays later on a 7-yard run.
The Green Wave, who finished with 388 yards of total offense, rallied to tie the game in the third quarter at 21-21 when Strozier picked off a Broadway pass and returned it 20 yards to the Louisiana 17.
Darkwa, who finished with 83 yards rushing on 16 carries and was named the game's Most Valuable Player, scored his bowl-record third touchdown of the game one play after an illegal procedure penalty when he took a handoff and raced 22 yards to the end zone with 2:34 left.
Justin Anderson, playing in his final game as a Cajun, registered a team-high eight tackles to lead Louisiana with Trae Johnson recording six and Simeon Thomas five. Cadona averaged nearly 41 yards per punt for the Cajuns on seven attempts, placing three inside the Tulane 20-yard line.
Nixon, who also saw action at quarterback, gained 29 yards on seven carries for Louisiana while completing 2 of 2 passes for 14 yards, highlighted by an 11-yard completion on the Cajuns' final drive when he connected with Robinson on third-and-10 at the Louisiana 37.