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50th Anniversary: Memories Plentiful at Cajun Field by Bruce Brown

Memories plentiful at Cajun Field

 

 

By Bruce Brown

 

Athletic Network

 

 

What is your favorite Cajun Field memory?

 

Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns are celebrating 50 years of football at the stadium this season, and that's enough time to build up a fair list of moments to satisfy most fans.

 

Lord knows it hasn't all been a bed of roses. There have been setbacks, as with any program searching for its identity, but the trip has been worthwhile.

 

Just think of the benefits.

 

To see stars like Jake Delhomme, Brandon Stokley, Brian Mitchell, Orlando Thomas, Roy Henry, Mike McDonald, Tyrell Fenroy, Charles Tillman, Damon Mason, Chris Gannon and Steve Spinella was special, not to mention enjoying more recent talent like Michael Desormeaux, Raymond Calais, Terrance Broadway, Elijah Mitchell, Levi Lewis, Blaine Gautier and Brett Baer.

 

The 50 years at Cajun Field have given the University an athletic profile to go with long-established ID's carved by basketball, baseball and softball.

 

When the 1971 season kicked off, the Cajuns of coach Russ Faulkinberry were coming off a 9-3 season featuring a 26-25 loss to Tennesse State in the Grantland Rice Bowl.

 

The stage seemed set to climb to a higher profile in the sport, and a move from tiny McNaspy Stadium on campus was in order.

 

New worlds were opening up to me as well, arriving on campus in fall of 1971 for my first year of college. While there, and in most of my 37 years at The Daily Advertiser, it was a privlege to cover Ragin' Cajun athletics, including most of the games of the last 50 years at Cajun Field.

 

What a long, strange trip it's been.

 

To mark the experience, I've gathered 10 of my favorite Cajun Field games. Everyone's got some.

 

 

Cajuns 29, No. 25 Texas A&M 22

 

Sept. 14, 1996

 

Still No. 1.

 

The Ragin' Cajun defense took advantage of every Aggie miscue, forcing eight turnovers - four interceptions, four fumbles lost, scoring on three of them - as UL scored its first win in history over a ranked team before 38,783 fanatics.

Fans swarmed the field on that muggy night and the south end zone goal posts were carried from the stadium by ecstatic backers.

 

Damon Mason returned an interception 42 yards for one touchdown, Charles Johnson rumbled 17 yards with a fumble and Britt Jackson dashed 30 yards with the deciding interception for the Cajuns' defensive TD's.

 

Jake Delhomme hit Cody Romero for the offensive score, capping a long drive.

 

Cajun coach Nelson Stokley reveled in the landmark victory, earned by heavy underdogs who knew it was their moment.

 

 

Raymond Calais runs wild

 

Sept. 2, 2017

 

Raymond Calais is fast.

 

How fast?

 

If he's even, he's leavin'.

 

The Cecilia High product is one of the swiftest players to ever wear a UL uniform – something the SLU Lions found out in the 2,017 season-opener.

 

Their first mistake was kicking the ball to Calais to open the game. A school-record 100 yards later, he was cruising into the north end zone for a quick 7-0 lead.

 

The Lions had a score of their own, but kicked it to Calais “again” and he sped 97 yards for another TD.

 

Well, after two kickoff return touchdowns, SLU didn't kick it to him again.

 

It turns out, the Cajuns needed every point they could get in a 51-48 victory.

 

Calais finished his Cajun career with 216 carries for 1,895 yards, a gaudy 7.8 yards per rush and TD runs of 92 and 83 yards.

 

No surprise, not with that kind of speed.

 

 

Cajuns 29, Arkansas State 28

 

Nov. 18, 1989

 

Cajun fans grew acccustomed to highlight reel moments during Brian Mitchell's record-setting four years in the program from 1986-89, but he may have outdone himself in his finale.

 

Mitchell, who ran for 3,335 yards and 47 touchdowns and threw for 5,447 more yards and 25 scores, found himself facing a 28-21 deficit against Arkansas State with 2:42 to play.

 

He had already run for scores of 15, 8 and 43 yards, so he went to work again. Mitchell dashed in once more from 7 yards out with 40 seconds to play.

 

The Cajuns went for a 2-point conversion and the win, and Mitchell delivered with a pass to Corey Williams. But UL was called for illegal man downfield -  whiich is tough to do when you line up on the 2 ­- so Mitchell hit his former Plaquemine High teammate Williams again for the win.

 

That's 232 yards and four scores on the ground, 155 in the air - 387 total.

 

Just another day at the office for Mitchell, who went on to become the most prodigious kickoff return man in NFL history.

 

 

Cajuns 40, ULM 26

 

Nov. 6, 1982

 

Dwight Prudhomme would never be called a scatback, or a speedster. When he signed with the Cajuns out of Lafayette High in 1979, he was the pocket passing leader of a 12-1 LHS state semiifinalist.

 

But on this chilly night, Prudhomme ran - far and fast enough.

 

The Cajuns trailed Northeast Louisiana 26-0 at halftime of homecoming, then they caught a gambling defense in a stunt on a quarterback sneak and Prudhomme loped to a 60-yard touchdown.

 

Suddenly everything they did worked, and nothing clicked for the Indians.

 

The Cajuns scored 40 points in 17 minutes to notch the greatest comeback in school history.

 

Prudhomme hit 22-of-31 passes for 344 yards and touchdowns to Greg Hobbs and Pierre Perkins.

 

That provided a springboard to a 29-19 win over La. Tech the next week, and a 7-3-1 finish.

 

 

Oklahoma State 21, Cajuns 20

 

Sept. 6, 1986

 

Former Crowley High and LSU star Nelson Stokley was eager to make an impression in his first game as coach of the Ragin' Cajuns.

 

Despite the fact that Oklahoma State had a star-studded roster that included future Pro Football Hall of Fame members Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders, the Cajuns were ready to lay the wood.

 

Leading 13-9, the Cajuns pounced on a fumble in the OSU end zone for an amazing 20-9 advantage.

 

But they kicked off to Bobby Riley, who promptly went 97 yards to get the Cowboys back in it. Quarterback Mike Gundy then engineered a late drive and hit Hart Lee Dykes for the winning score.

 

It was a crushing loss, but it showed Stokley wasn't one to back down. The Cajuns also lost 21-20 at Ole Miss that year en route to a 6-5 finish.

 

 

Cajuns 48, McNeese 16

 

Nov. 12, 1983

 

Enough was enough.

 

The Ragin' Cajuns had struggled with old rival McNeese State in the 1970's and early 80's. Their last win had been a 10-0 score under Russ Faulkinberry in 1972. But the tide turned for a satisfying moment in 1983 with Sam Robertson at the helm.

 

Hero of the runaway triumph was quarterback Donnie Schexnider, who hit 15-of-26 passes for 183 yards and three touchdown aerials to Clarence Verdin of 35 yards, Greg Hobbs of 7 yards and Johnny Casanova for a 30-yard TD.

 

UL scored just before halftime for a 17-13 lead, then kept pouring in points behind a 292-yard ground game.

 

The Cajuns, who were second in the nation in pass defense that year, took momentum from beating McNeese to win their last three games of the season.

 

When Nelson Stokley took over in 1986, he made sure the Cajuns beat the Cowboys 33-13.

 

 

Alabama 25, Cajuns 8

 

Oct. 6, 1990

 

As far as we know, Gene Stallings doesn't have anything against crawfish.

 

But it was clear that Stallings was on pins and needles when he brought his Alabama Crimson Tide into Cajun Field in 1990.

 

He knew about the close call against Oklahoma State four years earlier and he knew the Cajuns' Nelson Stokley was gathering up talent to take on the big-name schools.

 

Stallings certainly didn't want to be the one to sully Bama's lofty status.

 

Some 36,133 fans showed up for the contest, a record crowd hoping for an upset.

 

They didn't get it, but UL's defense held the Tide to one touchdown, a moral victory for a program seeking recognition.

 

The atmosphere was worth the effort.

 

 

Utah State 34, Cajuns 13

 

Sept. 4, 1993

 

Odd choice, you may say.

 

But the long-range effect altered the direction of the program because it forced Jake Delhomme into the spotlight as a freshman.

 

Utah State was pilfering passes by quarterbacks Jason Sanborn and Danny DiPace in a lopsided first half.

 

It got so bad that at halftime Nelson Stokley and his staff decided to throw Delhomme into the fray. At that point, they had nothing to lose.

 

So the Teurlings Catholic product, an All-State safety in high school, entered the game and changed the next four years.

 

It was too late to save the opener, and UL fell 29-28 at Miami University the next week, but the Cajuns only lost once more as Delhomme gradually took command of a senior-laden team that finished 8-3 and won the Big West Conference title.

 

Before he was finished, Delhomme was the Cajuns' all-time passing leader with 9,216 yards and 64 touchdowns and a 25-18 record as a starter.

 

He later led the 2003 Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl. All he needed was an emergency call from the sidelines.

 

 

Cajuns 40, La. Tech 33

 

Nov. 4, 1995

 

Jake Delhomme never lost to an in-state foe, going 4-0 against La. Tech and 2-0 against Tulane, but he had to work extra hard in 1995.

 

The Cajuns trailed the Bulldogs 23-7 in the first half and 23-10 at halftime.

 

That set up a dramatic rally in the second half as Delhomme got warmed up. He finished 27-of-40 for 371 yards and three touchdowns, the last two to prodigious freshman Brandon Stokley for 15 and 21 yards.

 

Their last score came with just 1:45 on the clock for the game winner as Stokley completed a 12 catch afternoon for 147 yards.

 

In his first year of action, the Comeaux High product caught 75 passes for 1,121 yards and 9 touchdowns and he remains the school record holder with 241 catches for 3,702 yards and 25 TD's. He was a Super Bowl winner with the 2000 Ravens.

 

Delhomme's four career wins over Tech came by 4, 10, 7 and 6 points, each of them classics between old rivals.

 

 

Cajuns 49, Grambling 17

 

Sept. 1, 2018

 

Coach Billy Napier is in his fourth season as the Cajun leader, and it's become clear he was the right man for the job.

 

It's also clear some program from a larger school will attempt to woo him away from the bayou. In the meantime, he has put together a gritty group with a united purpose.

 

The Cajuns have made a habit of going to postseason bowl games under Napier, who carried a 34-12 record into this year's homecoming game against Texas State.

 

Among the 34 wins was the 2020 season opener at Iowa State, a 31-14 victory that gave the Cajuns their first-ever road win over a Top 25 program.

 

Expectations remain high, and it all began with the win over Grambling in the 2018 season opener for a team featuring Trey Ragas, Elijah Mitchell, Raymond Calais, Andre Nunez, Levi Lewis, Ryheem Malone , Jacques Boudreaux and Ja'Marcus Bradley.

 

The next 50 years should be quite a ride.

 * * * * * *

Athletic Network Footnote by Ed Dugas:

Click here for the 1971 Football Photo Gallery. 

Click here for the 1982 Football photo gallery and 2002 reunion at Homecoming.

Click here for the 1996 Football photo gallery.

Click here for the page of the Past Ballplayers Association - article and photo gallery of many who played in the first football game at Cajun Field.

 



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