NEW ORLEANS – Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns will play in the New Orleans Bowl for a second straight season after making their first-ever FBS bowl appearance last year and shocking heavy favorite San Diego State 32-30.
Brett Baer's 50-yard field as time expired provided the exclamation point to a final 35 seconds that produced 10 points and two lead changes.
Just 30 seconds earlier, San Diego State had taken its first and only lead of the game on Ryan Lindley's 12-yard touchdown pass to Colin Lockett. But Ragin' Cajun QB Blaine Gautier led his team from its own 18-yard line to the Aztec 38 where they were set to try a 55-yard boot.
The kick became a little easier when San Diego State was penalized 5 yards for "illegal stemming" (making motions and actions to cause the offense to move). The 50-yarder squeezed past the left upright and probably would have been good from 55 or slightly longer.
This year's opponent will be East Carolina. The Pirates won five of their final six regular-season games and head to the postseason at 8-4 overall and 7-1 in the conference, tying for the East Division title. A loss to UCF provided the tie-breaker that sent the Golden Knights to the conference championship game.
East Carolina brings a potent offense to the Crescent City, led by quarterback Shane Carden, who has completed nearly 67 percent of his passes for 2,838 yards and 21 touchdowns. Carden accounted for six touchdowns in the Pirates’ regular season finale, a wild 65-59 double overtime victory over Marshall on November 23.
The Pirates are the only team in Conference USA with both a 1,000-yard rusher (Vintavious Cooper) and a 1,000-yard receiver (Justin Hardy). Hardy ranks second in C-USA with 76 receptions, including a school-record 16 against Marshall.
The Pirates lead C-USA and rank tied for fifth nationally in red zone efficiency, scoring on 45 of 49 trips inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. Coincidentally, their bowl opponent, Louisiana, ranks tied for second in the nation.
On defense, ECU has 25 sacks, led by outside linebacker Derrell Jackson with seven. The Pirates have been opportunistic on defense and special teams with four returns for touchdowns this season.
ECU figures to travel well to New Orleans. It has led Conference USA in attendance each of the last five years and drew at least 45,000 to each of its six home games in 2012.
Louisiana finished 8-4 overall and 6-2 in the Sun Belt in a dead heat tie for 2nd place with Louisiana-Monroe and Middle Tennessee. The Ragin' Cajuns won four of their last five with the only loss coming by a touchdown at Florida where a 7-point lead evaporated inside the last two minutes.
The Ragin’ Cajuns feature one of the Sun Belt’s most exciting offenses, led by sophomore quarterback Terrance Broadway. Broadway, who in September took over for 2011 R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl Most Outstanding Player Blaine Gautier, entered Saturday having completed 65.1 percent of his passes for 2,526 yards with 16 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He added 661 rushing yards and 8 more scores.
Wide receivers Harry Peoples and Darryl Surgent are Broadway’s favorite targets while Alonzo Harris leads the running game.
On defense, linebacker Justin Anderson leads the Cajuns with 101 tackles and free safety Rodney Gillis has a team-best five interceptions to rank second in the conference.
The Cajuns also have a strong kicking game behind the right foot of Baer who leads the Sun Belt in scoring, field goal conversion percentage and punting average.
The Cajuns join North Texas and Southern Miss as as schools that have made consecutive New Orleans Bowl appearances. The Mean Green played in the first two New Orleans Bowl (2001 and 2002) while Southern Miss played in the 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2009 games. It is East Carolina's first trip to this game.