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Football: What a comeback!

Cajuns overcome 21-0 deficit to defeat Houston

Dan McDonald

HOUSTON – The knock on the University of Louisiana’s football team over the past decade, even in the five years under coach Rickey Bustle, was the lack of a signature win.

Throw that rap out the window. In fact, throw out all the doubts about whether or not the Ragin’ Cajuns can compete with established Division I-A teams.
All those frustrations were cast aside here Saturday night during a stunning 18-play, 85-yard drive in the final minutes, one capped when quarterback Jerry Babb hit tight end and unlikely target Kevin Belton for a four-yard touchdown. That pass gave the Cajuns a shocking 31-28 victory over Houston’s Cougars.

Yes, you read right. A Cajun team that trailed 21-0 16 minutes into the game and had many back-home fans turning off radios had one of the most miraculous turnarounds in recent history against a team that was drawing votes in the national polls as recent as last weekend.

“How do you think I feel?” said Cajun coach Rickey Bustle after his squad completed its win over a 17-point favorite with a final-seconds defensive stand. “I feel like we beat a Top 25 team. They’re that good. They belong in there with Oklahoma State (whom UH beat 34-25) and Miami (a 14-13 loss last Saturday). It was just a great win. These guys did not quit when they got down.”

The Cajuns (3-2) never led in the game until the final 62 seconds when Babb’s pass to Belton put UL in front 29-28. A two-point conversion provided the final margin, and all that was left was to hold the Cougars (4-2) one last time.

That was no small task considering that UH quarterback Kevin Kolb entered the Cougars’ final possession 25-of-29 for 361 yards and two scores. But UL’s defense held Houston on three downs and Kolb came up short on a scramble on fourth down.

That defense held Houston to 38 rushing yards on 22 carries and forced the Cougars to become one-dimensional, and that became their undoing when the Cajuns held UH scoreless in the final 20 minutes.

“We really didn’t change a lot,” said Cajun cornerback Michael Adams. “We gave them some cheap ones early, but we talked about it at the half. They hadn’t hit us with a lot of short stuff … it was mostly screens and deep balls, and we wanted to do the same thing we did last week (against Eastern Michigan), stop them after they caught it.”

The other thing the Cajuns wanted to do was run the ball, and they did that to the tune of 238 rush yards in the final three quarters. Much of the damage in that final drive – 68 of the 85, to be exact – came on the ground.

Tyrell Fenroy, recording his third straight 100-yard effort with 110 yards, and quarterback Jerry Babb did the heavy lifting in that march. Fenroy had 32 yards and Babb had 25 including two third-down conversion runs.

“They (Houston) got after us defensively early,” Babb said, “but we knew we could drive the ball. Early in the game we couldn’t put plays back-to-back, but the offensive line did a great job. They were getting stronger as the game went along, and that says something for the conditioning. They weren’t tired at the end.”

UL appeared tired, dazed or confused early when Houston bolted out to a 21-0 lead. A 58-yard strike from Kolb set up Jackie Battle’s two-yard run six minutes in, and one play after a replay review took away an apparent Cajun defensive touchdown Kolb hit Donnie Avery with a 56-yard strike that made it 14-0 35 seconds before the end of the first period.

Kolb scored himself on a four-yard keeper 90 seconds later after an interception, and UL looked done.

“At that point I just wanted to stop the bleeding,” Bustle said. “But as we got into the second quarter, we started chipping away and got back in it.”

Deon Wallace’s long kickoff return set up Babb’s 14-yard touchdown run, and Drew Edmiston toed through three field goals including a 51-yarder on the end of three of UL’s next four possessions. The last one came after Kolb’s nine-yard fourth-down touchdown pass to Jeron Harvey with 4:40 left in the third quarter, a score that gave the host Cougars an apparently-safe 28-13 edge.

A fumble on the first play of the final period, though, set UL up at midfield and set up Fenroy’s fourth-down scoring burst from 18 yards out with 11:33 left. Suddenly UL was back within 28-23, and the defense came up with a stop on third down inside its own 40 and forced a punt to set up the final drive from the UL 15.

“We’ve been backed up before,” Babb said. “This is such an experienced group that there’s not a lot that needed to be said.”

“Jerry didn’t have to say anything,” Fenroy said. “We didn’t come all the way back like that to let down at the end.”

Originally published October 8, 2006