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Football: Cajuns fall to Golden Eagles, 51-21

Joshua Parrott • jparrott@theadvertiser.com • August 31, 2008

HATTIESBURG, Miss. – Damion Fletcher gave UL huge headaches in its season-opener on Saturday night.

The junior running back enjoyed a game to remember, although it was one the Ragin’ Cajuns would rather forget after a 51-21 loss to Southern Miss before 32,792 at M.M. Roberts Stadium.

Fletcher, the preseason offensive player of the year in Conference USA, shredded UL’s defense a career-high 222 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries as the Golden Eagles won in Larry Fedora’s head coaching debut.

"The O-line proved that they can get the job done," said Fletcher, who rushed for a program-record 1,586 yards last season. "I just ran hard and did the things we do in practice."

The loss marked the eighth straight in the series for the Cajuns (0-1) as the program dropped their 18th consecutive road opener. USM (1-0) racked up a school record 633 yards – including 427 on the ground – and improved to 22-1 in Hattiesburg thanks in part to four Cajun turnovers.

USM’s Bubba Kirksey carried the ball 20 times for 110 yards as the team set a single-game stadium record for rushing.

"I thought their (USM’s) backs ran really hard," UL coach Rickey Bustle. "We’ve just got to tackle better. We tackled worse as the game went on.

"I don’t know if we got tired or what happened."

While Fletcher recorded the third-best rushing effort in USM history, UL’s Tyrell Fenroy inched closer to supplanting Brian Mitchell as the program’s leading career rusher. The senior finished with 56 yards and one touchdown on 13 carries but missed the second half with a head injury.

Fenroy, who now has 3,327 career yards on the ground, sits nine yards behind Mitchell (3,335 yards from 1986-89). Bustle said Fenroy’s status is unknown, although he should have time to heal as the Cajuns are off until going to Illinois on Sept. 13.

UL quarterback Michael Desormeaux rushed for a team-high 146 yards as the Cajuns gained 265 of their 394 total yards running the ball. But the senior’s eighth career 100-yard game could not offset his struggles in the team’s new-look passing game as he went 9-for-20 for 98 yards with two interceptions.

Desormeaux looked emotionally spent after the frustrating loss. The New Iberia native said the impending landfall of Hurricane Gustav did not play a role in Saturday’s performance.

"To come out here and perform this poorly, it is an emotional drain for us," Desormeaux said. "You can make 100 excuses, but the bottom line is we didn’t get it done tonight. And they did."

USM made plenty of plays on both sides of the ball early, jumping out to a 21-0 lead early in the first half. The first two touchdowns – Fletcher’s 14-yard run and a 23-yard pass from Austin Davis to Ed Morgan – came after Desormeaux interceptions.

A 1-yard scoring run by UL redshirt freshman Julian Shankle made it 21-7 early in the second quarter, but Fletcher answered with a TD run from six yards out.

Fenroy’s 3-yard run into the end zone pulled the Cajuns closer at 28-14 with 1:56 left before halftime. Davis, who got the starting nod over sophomore Martevious Young, tacked on a 1-yard TD dive in the closing seconds of the first half. The redshirt freshman ended up 14-of-21 passing for 202 yards and two TD passes.

The early damage was too much for the Cajuns to overcome. With an off week, now UL turns its attention to Hurricane Gustav over the Labor Day weekend.

"I think they’ve closed school for Tuesday already," Bustle said. "We just need to know if any of the guys are going home tomorrow, and we’ll be in touch with them."