Late field goal sinks SDSU in New Orleans Bowl

Ryan Lindley’s third touchdown pass to Colin Lockett came just a

few seconds too soon.

San Diego State celebrated the 12-yard scoring strike with 35

seconds left, only to watch an even bigger celebration when

Louisiana-Lafayette kicker Brett Baer hit a 50-yard field goal as

time expired, sending the Aztecs to a 32-30 loss in the New Orleans

Bowl on Saturday night.

”Thirty seconds on the clock? You’d like to think (the game was

over),” Lindley said. ”It was a hard-fought game and you have to

tip your caps to them.”

Blaine Gautier drove Louisiana-Lafayette 44 yards to the Aztecs

38 to set up what was initially a 55-yard attempt, but a pre-snap

penalty on SDSU for trying to bait the Cajuns into a false start

moved the winning kick 5 yards closer.

Aztecs coach Rocky Long called the last penalty a ”phantom

call.”

”We didn’t have one guy move,” he said. ”I have no idea who

they called it on.”

It might not have made a difference. The kick easily had enough

distance and was down the middle.

The bigger problem, Long said, was the Aztecs’ missed

opportunities, including a 36-yard field goal attempt that Abeladro

Perez hooked wide right with just more than 10 minutes to go.

”We had opportunities and we didn’t make as many plays as they

did,” Long said. ”We missed a field goal. They made a field goal.

… Everyone wants to talk about offense and defense, but it was

special teams that won the game.”

There were other missed chances in the first half. SDSU (8-5)

had a first-and-goal on the 4 on their opening drive, only to go

backward and settle for Perez’s 27-yard field goal.

Early in the second quarter, SDSU appeared to have a successful

short passing play set up on fourth-and-1 from the

Louisiana-Lafayette 6, but Dylan Denso could not keep his feet as

he made the catch and landed inches short of the first-down

marker.

Lindley finished 28 of 49 for 413 yards and three touchdowns.

The Aztecs needed every bit of that as their offensive star,

running back Ronnie Hillman, was largely bottled up and finished

with 55 yards rushing, well below his average of 138.

”You have to give them credit. They played really good run

defense,” Long said. ”Ronnie is a good player. When he has a bad

day, we’re not blocking very well.”

Ragin’ Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth said his defense made stopping

Hillman its top priority.

”We put a lot of people at the line of scrimmage to stop him,”

Hudspeth said. ”We tried to take away what they do best. It worked

for the most part.”

Lindley found Lockett for a pair of 16-yard scoring passes in

the third quarter, when the Aztecs trimmed a 19-3 deficit to 19-17.

Lockett’s second TD capped a seven-play, 99-yard drive.

The Ragin’ Cajuns (9-4) responded with a 14-play, 78-yard drive

that included three third-down conversions and Lawson’s second

TD.

Adam Muema’s 5-yard touchdown run up the middle pulled SDSU to

26-24 with 5:40 left, but the Cajuns marched right back down the

field and were in position to put the game away.

Darryl Surgent made a one-handed catch while reaching around

behind defensive back Leon McFadden, even as McFadden was

interfering with him. Surgent then broke free of McFadden for a

56-yard gain to the SDSU 20.

Lawson then pulled down a catch between two defenders while

being interfered with, giving the Cajuns a first down on the 3. But

Louisiana-Lafayette was forced to settle for Baer’s 22-yard field

goal, setting up the wild finish.

Gautier passed for 470 yards and three scores for the Cajuns,

breaking the New Orleans Bowl record of 387 yards passing set by

Troy’s Corey Robinson a year ago.

Gautier finished with 2,958 yards passing and 23 TDs on the

season, breaking Jake Delhomme’s single-season school records of

2,901 yards and 20 TDs set in 1996.

Gautier threw two touchdown passes to Javone Lawson, from 18 and

11 yards out, and had a 20-yard scoring strike to Ladarius

Green.

Surgent returned a punt 87 yards for a score, slicing through

SDSU’s coverage with a quick cut to his right and a sprint back to

the left. The receiver finished with 283 all-purpose yards.

The Ragin’ Cajuns had not appeared in a bowl of any kind since

playing in the Grantland Rice Bowl 41 years ago.

Thousands of red-clad, bowl-starved fans followed the Ragin’

Cajuns to New Orleans, greatly outnumbering Aztecs fans and helping

set a New Orleans Bowl attendance record of 42,841.

The bowl victory was Louisiana-Lafayette’s first as a Division I

FBS team, and the Cajuns stopped the Aztecs from winning bowls in

consecutive seasons.