Football: Fast start propels UL past Ga. St.
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, November 7, 2015
ATLANTA The memo about not being able to afford yet another slow start apparently was delivered, read and taken to heart by UL.
The Ragin’ Cajuns scored 17 first-quarter points Saturday, marking the most scoring they’ve had in an opening period this year.
Coach Mark Hudspeth’s club consequently went into halftime up 17-14, marking just the second time in eight games this season, along with a September win over Northwestern State, that they’ve led at the break.
The early points were quite beneficial, as UL needed two Stevie Artigue field goals in the fourth quarter– from 49 and 21 yards – to avoid some late scares and beat Georgia State 23-21 at the Georgia Dome.
“I’m really proud of this team. … I thought they overcame a lot of adversity,” said Hudspeth, whose Cajuns – now on their first two-game win streak of the season – improved to 4-4 overall and 3-1 in Sun Belt Conference play.
“Every call seemed to go against us today,” he added, “and we were able to overcome those things and made plays when we had to.”
Georgia State quarterback Nick Arbuckle rolled right, bought time and waited for Donovan Harden to get open and catch a 3-yard touchdown throw that helped the 2-6 Panthers go up 21-17 with five minutes and 27 seconds left in the third quarter.
When Brooks Haack could not connect long with Jamal Robinson, UL’s ensuing drive ended with a career-long 49-yard field goal from Artigue that made it 21-20 with 1:30 to go in the third.
After Georgia State’s Wil Lutz missed a field-goal try for the second time and after Ross Duhon stopped a Panthers fake-punt pass completion shy of a first down, a 21-yard Artigue field goal put UL ahead 23-21 with 6:59 to go.
Artigue missed a 42-yard attempt with just under three minutes left, however, giving Georgia State another crack.
Cornerback Savion Brown saved things for the Cajuns, though, by picking off a pass from Arbuckle, the Sun Belt’s passing yards leader.
“We knew going into the game that they had a very prolific offense and a great quarterback,” said Haack who finished 18-of-25 for 162 yards with no interceptions, including eight throws for 103 yards and a touchdown to Al Riles.
“So it was going in (we knew) that we needed to hold onto the ball and have possession and keep ourselves out on the field.
“We did a good job of that,” added Haack, whose Cajuns visit South Alabama on Thursday night, “and we’ve just got to keep rolling from here.”
Haack started at quarterback for UL, one outing after coming off the bench to helped lead a Cajun comeback against UL Monroe.
With Hudspeth having promised that both Cajun QBs would play, Jalen Nixon – who started UL’s prior four games – entered in the second quarter and was intercepted on a third-down overthrow to end his first drive of the day.
UL spread the ball around on its opening drive, but just like on its three first-half scoring drives in a 30-24 win over ULM one week earlier the Cajuns had to settle for a field goal.
Artigue’s 40-yarder made it 3-0 UL early.
“Our special teams, I thought, could not have played any better,” Hudspeth said. “It was a critical part of the victory.”
The Cajuns extended their lead when Georgia State’s ensuing drive stalled, Travis Crawford blocked a Wil Lutz punt and reserve running back Montrel Carter recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown.
Artigue’s PAT put the Cajuns up 10-0.
“Coach said we would have a chance to get it,” Crawford said.
“It was an all-out,” he added, “so I went right up through the middle and I just got a good jump, a good beat on it, and the rest is history.”
It was the second blocked punt in two games for UL, which also got a key one – leading to a fourth-quarter touchdown – in its win over ULM.
“It was a great momentum swing,” said Cajuns linebacker Dominique Tovell, who had seven total tackles including two sacks, matching the tackle total of nickel back Zach DeGrange and linebacker Otha Peters.
“We preach on it (special teams) every day. It’s a big part of our team. We don’t take it lightly. It’s probably one of the top things on our priority list, and I’m glad for those two guys, especially Montrel, whose had a real long career here.”
Georgia State answered, though, as Arbuckle capped a seven-play, 67-yard drive with an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Keith Rucker.
Lutz’s PAT again made it a three-point game with just more than six minutes left in the opening half.
Haack followed with a 4-yard swing pass to Riles for a TD with 55 seconds left in the first quarter to help put the Cajuns, along with another Artigue PAT, up 17-7.
The touchdown was the first UL’s offense has produced in a first quarter in almost a month, with the last having come in an Oct. 10 win over Texas State.
The Cajuns had three points combined in the first quarter of the two following games — against Arkansas State and ULM.
Seven plays after Nixon was picked, Arbuckle made a 3-yard touchdown throw over the middle to Rucker – who made quite a one-handed catch, extending his right arm – to help make it tight again at 17-14 UL.
One week after shutting out ULM in the second, half, though, the Cajuns didn’t allow Georgia State any fourth-quarter points.
“Defensively, in the second half,” Hudspeth said, “we again played exceptionally well.”