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Football: Cajuns relish comeback year

Football: Cajuns relish comeback year

Football: Cajuns relish comeback year

UL season culminates in big win over in-state rival ULM.

Dan McDonald

After emptying watercoolers on coaches heads and congratulatory handshakes and hug, it’s not so odd that the University of Louisiana players were talking about next year after Saturday’s 54-21 win over UL Monroe. With a five-game winning streak to end the year, it wasn’t hard to tell that a lot of the Cajuns wouldn’t mind playing some more.
"As a team, when we were 1-5 we believed we could pull this out," said junior quarterback Jerry Babb, who helmed a 425-yard offensive attack that averaged six yards per rush and had only one turnover. "People outside the team might have counted us out, but as a team we knew we could do it, and now look at the result."

This Cajun team did what the previous three couldn’t – beat ULM. More than that, they also earned a share of their first conference title since 1994 and finished with their first winning season since 1995.

That result was created by UL controlling the football, 30:39 to 14:21 over the final three quarters, with a ground attack that netted 343 yards. Freshman running back Tyrell Fenroy had 164 of those in becoming the Cajuns’ first 1,000-yard back.
"It was very important for us to keep the ball and keep it moving," Fenroy said. "They came out and put up a couple of scores early, so we needed to control the ball and the offensive line just took over. All I had to do was have patience and read their blocks."

When ULM had the ball, the Cajun defense stifled the league’s most productive offense. An Indian team averaging over 415 yards on the season was held to 202, and only 49 of those came in the final three periods. ULM had scoring marches of 81 and 66 yards in the first quarter on the way to a 14-7 lead, and didn’t have a march longer than 23 yards the rest of the day.

"I couldn’t be more proud of this team and these guys," said senior long snapper/fullback Justin Venable, one of 13 seniors who wrapped up the longest career in NCAA Division I-A history (eight years due to granting of injury hardships). "It makes it all well worth it, sticking around for eight years and with everything that’s happened and all the adversity. I’m so glad to finally end up like this.

"We’ve said all year we have to play four quarters of football, and that’s what we did. We didn’t panic in the first quarter. We just did what we needed to do."

Bustle gave each of the seniors a chance to speak in the locker room following the game, and when he got to Venable someone piped up, "Coach, he’s already said this the last four years."

It was good for a big laugh, but Bustle was serious when he made one last statement to the team.

"We may have to share this conference title," he said, "but this is the best football team in this conference."

ASU HEADED HERE: Arkansas State’s 31-24 win at North Texas Saturday gave ASU the other share of the three-way Sun Belt crown. ASU, ULM and UL all finished 5-2 in league play, with ASU earning the league’s berth in the New Orleans Bowl courtesy of a 39-36 win over the Cajuns back on Oct. 13, UL’s last loss.

ASU will make its first-ever Division I-A bowl appearance in the 7 p.m. Dec. 20 game at UL’s Cajun Field. The contest was moved from its Louisiana Superdome home after the ravages of Hurricane Katrina. The Indians will play a team from Conference USA, with that selection likely to come this week from a group that includes Southern Miss, Memphis, Houston and UTEP.

Central Florida, which beat the Cajuns 24-21 on a last-play field goal earlier this year, will meet Tulsa in the C-USA title game Saturday in Orlando. Tulsa backed into that title game over the weekend when UTEP was upset 40-27 by SMU.

TUFF TIEBREAKER: Ironically, if ULM had picked up one more non-conference victory during the season, it would be the Cajuns as a true "host" team for the bowl.

ULM finished 5-6 overall and was eliminated from a potential three-team bowl tiebreaker with UL and ASU since it is not bowl-eligible. Had ULM finished 6-5 instead of 5-6, the bowl berth would have been determined by the Sun Belt’s three-team tiebreaker format.

And, UL would have that tiebreaker advantage since it beat all of the teams that could tie for fourth in the league (Middle Tennessee, Troy and Florida International) and both ASU and ULM lost games to one of those teams. The final league standings won’t be determined until Middle and FIU play their hurricane-delayed game Saturday in Miami, but the Cajuns would hold the advantage regardless of the result of that game.

GOING BOWLING: Unlike last season when virtually every bowl-eligible team in the country made it to postseason play, it’s doubtful that the Cajuns will be able to secure a slot in one of the 28 bowl games.

A total of 64 teams nationally are bowl-eligible with at least six wins, and 56 slots are available in the bowl season that begins with the Dec. 20 New Orleans Bowl. The bowl-eligible number could go to 65 if Connecticut upsets Louisville Saturday in their Big East Conference finale.

Last season, 57 teams were eligible for the 56 spots. Akron of the Mid-American Conference was the only six-win team not to get a bowl invitation. Akron faces Northern Illinois this week for the MAC title.

A handful of leagues will not fill their bowl quota, such as the SEC with six eligible teams and eight spots. But other leagues have more eligible teams than bowl spots such as the ACC (eight) and the Mid-American (seven).

QUARTERBACK CLUB: The Ragin’ Cajun Quarterback Club will hold one more meeting for the 2005 season, that one today at noon at the Best Western Hotel Acadiana.

Head coach Rickey Bustle will host the senior members of the Cajun squad, and he and the staff will look back at the season. Lunch is $10 for members and $20 for non-members and all fans are invited.

Originally published November 28, 2005