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Football: UL defeats North Texas for season’s first win

Cajuns use big plays from Desormeaux, Fenroy to pull away late


"Oh, Lordy," said UL coach Rickey Bustle.

"That was just emotionally exhausting," said Cajun quarterback Michael Desormeaux, the catalyst of UL’s 38-29 Saturday victory over North Texas. "It was a game both teams needed to win so badly."

The Cajuns might have needed it worse, and that may have been the only difference in what turned into much more than a matchup of two of the nation’s remaining winless teams.

Saturday game turned into a battle between UL’s ground game and the throwing game of the Mean Green, and on this night the running game won – barely.

It didn’t win until Tyrell Fenroy broke a 69-yard run in the final three minutes, one that got UL out of a deep hole and set up Drew Edmiston’s clinching 22-yard field goal with 1:16 left.

Up until that point, it had been Desormeaux’s show for the Cajuns (1-5, 1-1 Sun Belt Conference). The junior from New Iberia rushed for 150 yards and two scores and threw a pair of touchdown passes among his 10 completions.

"Mike is just such a great competitor and leader," Bustle said. "I’ve been around some guys that can play at that position, but he’s one of those guys that everything he gets he earns."

The same could be said for North Texas freshman quarterback Giovanni Vizza, a surprise starter who took every snap and ended up completing 35-of-57 passes for 383 yards and three scores. Vizza was 21-of-34 with no interceptions – after three in the first half – for 263 yards after halftime.

"That was a huge challenge," said Cajun senior defensive end Rodney Hardeway of defending the Mean Green offense. "Any team that throws it a lot like they do has a chance to gas a defense, but our guys are in good shape and we were able to get just enough stops."

They needed every stop, and the Cajuns also needed to score on most of their possessions to nurse a lead that never got over the final nine-point margin.

"We always want to score," said Desormeaux, who entered the game as the nation’s leader among quarterback rushers and tallied his fourth 100-yard rush game. "Whenever you face off with a team that has that kind of offensive capability, it puts more pressure on you. But our defense made some stops."

Desormeaux provided a big play for the Cajun offense on the first play of the second half when he faked a handoff to Fenroy and broke loose on a 73-yard touchdown run. His dive between defenders covered the last three yards of his career-long run and gave UL a 21-12 lead at the time.

That margin didn’t last long, though, with UNT going on the game’s longest march one possession later. Vizza completed six straight passes in the 75-yard march, including an eight-yard touchdown fade to Brock Stickler that pulled the Mean Green within two points for the second of what would be three times.

During that drive and a following march that reached the Cajun 30, the Mean Green converted five straight third-down situations. But UL’s defense held on a fourth down, and the Cajuns came right back with a quick-strike score set up by two Desormeaux-to-Derrick Smith connections that covered 56 yards. The second, a 21-yard out route, went to the UNT 3 and Desormeaux lofted a pass to a wide-open tight end Kevin Belton for a touchdown on the next play.

Once again, it didn’t take the Mean Green long to strike back, going 74 yards on nine plays and Vizza finding Casey Fitzgerald wide open behind the UL secondary for the final 27 yards that again made it a two-point game with 11:11 left.

Desormeaux took his team right back on a march that he capped with a four-yard touchdown run with 7:16 left, but the Mean Green drove and made it a one-score game on Thomas Moreland’s 36-yard field goal with 2:55 left.

However, Fenroy shook the effects of his two-week sprained-ankle with his 69-yard burst.

"It hurts like hell," Fenroy said of his ankle, "but it was kind of numb on that run. Just doing that and winning feels awesome. Our whole team came together tonight."

Fenroy finished with 123 rush yards and a score as part of the 300-yard rushing attack.

"We need to be able to churn some of those out," Bustle said. "Having Fenroy back was big. When he broke that one, it felt awesome … if we don’t mess it up from there they have to score twice."

The Cajuns forced four turnovers in the first half, picked off Vizza twice in the first quarter and getting a hand on a pitchout from the UNT quarterback that resulted in a fumble recovery, but cashed in on only one of those. The Mean Green, meanwhile, converted off its first turnover early in the second period to keep pace at halftime.

Johnathan Vance knocked down a Vizza pitchout on UNT’s second possession and Grant Fleming recovered at the UNT 39, but UL went 15 yards in reverse on the ensuing drive. However, three plays after a following punt, Gerren Blount stepped in front of Mean Green intended receiver Brandon Jackson and grabbed the first of his two interceptions to set UL up at the UNT 27.

Two plays later, Desormeaux threw in the flat to Derrick Smith, and Smith got a kick-out block from Brad Bryant on a 24-yard untouched sprint to the end zone for his second score in as many games.

UL had another golden opportunity when Orkeys Auriene picked off Vizzi and returned it deep into Mean Green territory two minutes later, but a penalty negated the return.

One punt exchange later, UNT got its big first-half break when Phillip Nevels muffed Truman Spencer’s punt and Christian Davidson recovered the loose ball at the UL 24. Two runs and a penalty took it to the Cajun 4 before Vizza fumbled into the end zone and wide receiver Brock Stickler recovered for a touchdown.

Thomas Moreland’s extra point clanged off the right upright to keep UL in front 7-6.

It was 14-6 moments later after two Desormeaux completions took the ball to the UNT 43. From there, Fenroy broke clear at the line of scrimmage behind Ian Burks’ block and went the final 43 yards for his second score of the season.