With Terrance Broadway toughing out the New Orleans Bowl with a cast on his broken right forearm, Louisiana-Lafayette figured its fortunes might hinge on whether its defense could make a few big plays.
Ragin’ Cajun defensive backs Corey Trim and Sean Thomas answered that call.
Trim returned an interception 82 yards for a touchdown, Thomas’ second interception set up Hunter Stover’s go-ahead field goal in the fourth quarter, and Louisiana-Lafayette held off Tulane 24-21 Saturday night for its third straight New Orleans Bowl victory.
"We preached turnovers," Thomas said. "Going into the game, we knew we had to help our offense out a lot."
Tulane set up for a 48-yard field goal try in the final seconds, but Cairo Santos, the 2012 Lou Groza award winner as the nation’s best kicker, missed just left.
Elijah McGuire and Alonzo Harris each had touchdowns runs for the Ragin’ Cajuns (9-4), who led 21-0 on Trim’s interception — the longest in the bowl game’s history — against Nick Montana. But Tulane rallied to tie it at 21 on three TD runs by Orleans Darkwa.
Curtis Johnson, who coached the Green Wave to its first bowl in 11 years, said his team appeared too emotional to function well early on.
"It was uncharacteristic of us," Johnson said. "Then all of a sudden we settled down and for three quarters of the game, from the second quarter on, we played pretty well. … A great comeback. We’ll get it next year."
Broadway passed for 143 yards and ran for 33, but was intercepted twice and took a lot of hits in the second half before being replaced by Jalen Nixon in the fourth quarter.
Broadway said he was out of shape because of his injury, and cramping up.
"It was a blessing to be able to come out of that game still 50 percent instead of zero percent," Broadway said. "I didn’t hurt my arm again and that’s a blessing."
Devin Powell replaced Montana in the first half and passed for 223 yards for Tulane (7-6), but his underthrown pass that Thomas picked off was costly. Tulane’s Ryan Grant had seven catches for 113 yards.
It wasn’t clear until kickoff who was going to play quarterback for either team. ULL coach Mark Hudspeth had all but ruled out Broadway, who broke his throwing arm Nov. 30. Johnson said he was unsure if he could start Montana, who’d struggled much of the season with injuries, including to his throwing shoulder.
Both quarterbacks ended up starting, but only Broadway took the majority of his team’s snaps.
"We felt like he was ready enough," Hudspeth said. "Sure enough, he was. He made some outstanding plays tonight. His health kept him from doing what he’d normally like to do at times, but man, what a competitor and what a leader."
Nixon’s play was crucial on ULL’s final offensive series, in which the Cajuns drove from their own 9 to midfield, eating up 5:45 before Tulane got the ball back on its own 5 with 1:35 left.
"We milked most of the clock," Hudspeth said. "That was the drive of the game."
Powell completed passes of 34 yards to Justin Shackleford and 27 yards to Ryan Grant to move the Green Wave into tying field goal range, but Santos uncharacteristically didn’t come through.
"Cairo’s made those before, it just didn’t fall for him this time," Johnson said.
The Ragin’ Cajuns needed six plays to produce the game’s opening score. Broadway completed his first two passes for first downs, and McGuire capped the drive with a 27-yard run in which he reached for the pylon as he was knocked out of bounds.
Tulane’s first turnover came on a trick play in which Grant took a reverse handoff and threw deep. Thomas intercepted it and returned it to the ULL 27, setting up a six-play, 73-yard scoring drive that ended with Harris’ 15-yard scoring run.
The Wave was in position to halve its deficit when Montana drove Tulane inside the ULL 20. Then came Trim’s interception.
After that, Tulane was desperate for points, and convert on fourth-and-3 from its own 47 on Powell’s 42-yard completion to Devon Breaux, setting up Darkwa’s first TD.
Jordan Sullen’s interception at the Tulane 35 set up the Green Wave’s second scoring drive, which began with Powell’s 49-yard pass to Grant. That led to Darwka’s second score on a 7-yard run up the middle shortly before halftime.
Darkwa’s tying touchdown came on a 22-yard run shortly after Derrick Strozier intercepted Broadway’s attempted throw-away along the sideline, returning it 20 yards to the 17.
Sullen was later knocked out by a knee to the head and carted off the field, but Johnson said he was expected to be fine.