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Football: Baer’s FG kicks off streak of New Orleans Bowl success

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, December 14, 2014


When Brett Baer ran wild at the Superdome after hitting a 50-yard field goal as time expired to beat San Diego State in the 2011 New Orleans Bowl, fellow kicker Hunter Stover was not among the many Ragin’ Cajuns chasing him down.

He tried, though.

“I was walking around as fast as I could,” Stover said. “Brett was getting carted off like he was Caesar or something.”

Stover was about two weeks removed from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament, so he didn’t play that night.

Watching from the sideline, though, offered opportunity to think.

Yet that whole time — from Blaine Gautier’s touchdowns passes to Javone Lawson and Ladarius Green to Darryl Surgent’s 87-yard punt return for a TD to the bizarre illegal stemming penalty that moved Baer’s winning kicking up by five yards — the notion of a return trip to the New Orleans Bowl did not consume Stover’s mind on that December evening in 2011.

It may have tried to, but Stover would not allow it.

Ergo, the notion of going back again, and again, and again one more time — after beating East Carolina in 2012 and Tulane last year, UL now plays Nevada in Saturday’s New Orleans Bowl — did not consume Stover either.

“I could feel it,” he said, “but you never really think like that.

“Putting it all together at one time — it’s just kind of hard to imagine, like, ‘We’re gonna go to four of these.’ But we definitely had the talent to do it and the coaching staff to do it. So, it seems expected now. But, back then, it was a helluva feat going to a bowl game.”

Prior to 2011, after all, the Cajuns hadn’t gone bowling since losing the Tennessee State in the 1970 Grantland Rice Bowl at Baton Rouge.

Starting offensive guard Daniel Quave — who has started all three prior UL New Orleans Bowls — didn’t think that way either.

“Not at all,” he said. “I really was … just remembering that one day.

“I wasn’t thinking about the future. You know, I just really wanted to have all the memories that I could continue to live on until today.”

For others, however, that first New Orleans Bowl clearly was the impetus to a streak that put UL in the same company as Florida State, Michigan State, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas A&M — teams that won three straight bowls from 2011-13, and that now have a chance to make it four in a row.

“It was one of those situations where the bar was set at that moment,” senior receiver James Butler said “I knew at that point, from then on, this team was gonna handle the expectation of going to a bowl game every year. “Now that’s easier said than done,” Butler added, “and I really think it’s been an accomplishment to go to a bowl game all four years.”

Butler’s not alone in appreciating the feat.

“It’s really just a blessing to just be in the position that we have been for the past four years,” Quave said.

“It means a lot of the program, especially staff,” added running back Alonzo Harris, who also has started all three UL New Orleans Bowls. “I know they (Cajun coaches) came in and they wanted to turn things around. That’s exactly what Coach Hud (Mark Hudspeth) and his staff did. We did what was asked of us; we came in and we worked hard.”

When UL did what it did in 2011, beating the Aztecs 32-30 to finish 9-4, Hudspeth sensed the foundation has been set.

All it took, evidently, was one building block.

“After we got there the first year I knew that going to that first bowl probably was that stage that we needed to get to as a program — to where if we get there, we knew that was gonna help us in recruiting,” he said. “We felt like we could build off that momentum, and then the next year build off that momentum.

“We had learned the (Sun Belt) conference, and I felt like at that point we had a chance to go to a bowl (again),” added Hudspeth, who replaced Rickey Bustle after the 2010 season. “I don’t know what bowl, but (learned the Cajuns) could be a consistent winner.”

As it turned out, it’s been the New Orleans Bowl all four years.

Winning the first, Harris believes, served as a motivator for what’s followed, including 9-4 finishes again in 2012 and 2012 and an 8-4 regular season this year.

“It was pretty exciting for us,” he said, “and we wanted that same feeling again.

“So the second year we came and we worked two times as hard. The third year we came and worked harder than we were the year before.”

Still, no matter how confident Hudspeth may have been three years ago, UL athletic director Scott Farmer didn’t automatically assume one bowl appearance would follow another like they have.

“I’m definitely ‘You better savor this,’ ” Farmer said. “It’s sometimes easier to climb the mountain than it is to stay on top of that mountain.”

The experience the Cajuns had in their initial bowl trip to French Quarter, sea level and the Superdome, however, seems to have some staying power.

The uniqueness of what it was then has much to do with that.

“The first New Orleans Bowl was special — because it was the first one, of course,” Quave said, “and just (because of) the fact that we were able to come out and have so much support and have the whole city behind us.”

A crowd of 42,841 watched that 2011 New Orleans Bowl, an overwhelming majority of it pro-Cajun.

By the Tulane game last December, the count was up to 54,728.

“That first New Orleans Bowl was different from any other,” Quave said. “Just to have the opportunity to have that experience, it was amazing.”

The magnitude of it wasn’t obvious to some, however, until after a 50-yarder made it through the uprights.

Then so much started to come into focus.

“At the time,” Harris said, “I was thinking, ‘OK, this is something exciting for us.’

“It really didn’t even sink in, I think, until after the game, after I realized that Brett Baer had made that kick.

“That’s when it actually sunk in that we just had won a bowl game, we actually went 9-4 (that) season, we actually turned this program around like Coach Hud said we would,” he added. “It’s been exciting ever since.”

For Harris, though, the days and months between then and now don’t seem nearly as long as the actually are.

“I live with that feeling,” he said, “because I’m quite sure the seniors and the guys that have lived through it — you know, we want to live with that feeling of winning.”

The Cajuns do, even if it means returning to what it is now familiar territory. That’s something one Cajun, much like Farmer, feels should not be taken for granted.

New Orleans is now home away from home for the UL football team. The road from Lafayette to the Superdome is much-traveled, the sidewalk from the Cajuns’ Canal Street hotel to Bourbon Street is well-worn. There’s no certainty how much longer will last.

But what’s happened so far is largely because of a field goal from a kicker Stover wishes he could have chased too.

“I know people are like, ‘Awww, I don’t want to go to the New Orleans Bowl,’ ” Stover said. “Fans are like, ‘Why are we still going to the New Orleans Bowl?’

“I guess it is a testament to how successful we’re doing. But you’ve still got to be appreciative of bowls, because I was there when we went we went 3-9 with Bustle.”