For the third consecutive year the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns are the New Orleans Bowl champions.
Congratulations to @ULRaginCajuns for winning the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl— New Orleans Bowl (@NewOrleansBowl) December 22, 2013
It wasn't easy though, the Ragin' Cajuns had to catch a few breaks and battle some adversity as they narrowly defeated the Tulane Green Wave, 24-21.
After 60 hard-fought minutes of football it all came down to a final field goal for Mark Hudspeth's squad. Tulane's Cairo Santos had the opportunity to tie the game with a 48-yard field goal with 13 seconds left but missed just right.
Tulane's Orleans Darkwa was named the New Orleans Bowl MVP despite being on the losing team.
Tulane RB Orleans Darkwa (three TDs runs, 86 yards on 16 carries) named New Orleans Bowl MVP after UL's 24-21 win.— Tim Buckley (@TDARaginCajuns) December 22, 2013
It's hard to deny that the running back deserved it, though. He ran for 83 yards on 16 carries and accounted for all three of Tulane's touchdowns on the ground.
Both Louisiana teams packed the Superdome, setting a new New Orleans Bowl attendance record and creating an exciting atmosphere for the final game of the season.
The first half resembled a basketball game with both teams going on separate runs. ULL took command early on by taking a 21-0 lead on the strength of touchdown runs of 27 and 15 yards from Elijah McGuire and Alonzo Harris, respectively, in the first quarter.
The Ragin' Cajuns depth would be a prevalent theme early in the game. As the team's Twitter account noted, the fast start was truly a team effort:
The Cajuns have played two quarterbacks, had two different running backs score touchdowns and two different kickers kick an extra point.— UL Ragin' Cajuns (@ULRaginCajuns) December 22, 2013
The Green Wave, on the other hand, could attribute their rocky start to turnovers:
Coming in to the game, all media said No. 1 issue for #Tulane was to avoid turnovers. Two thus far, 14 points from them. Simple stuff.— Scott Kushner (@ScottDKushner) December 22, 2013
Specifically, it was Nick Montana's second quarter interception that really put Tulane in an early hole. The son of NFL legend Joe Montana had an unfortunate hand in making some New Orleans Bowl history when Corey Trim returned his errant throw 82 yards to go up 21-0.
Tulane wasn't about to let Lafayette run away with the game early, though. Led by standout running back Darkwa and quarterback Devin Powell, who replaced Montana, the Green Wave scored back-to-back touchdowns in the second quarter to go into halftime within seven points of the Ragin' Cajuns, 21-14.
An incredible 50-yard connection between Powell and Ryan Grant set up the second touchdown run.
Despite the wild 35-point first half, scoring slowed down tremendously after halftime as both teams were able to make adjustments and each defense stepped up. The Tulane defense finally found a way to slow down the Lafayette offense while Powell struggled to get anything going for the Green Wave.
Both teams exchanged punts throughout most of the third frame until an ill-advised Terrance Broadway pass was picked off by Tulane's Derrick Strozier. The Green Wave took over at the 17, and after a five-yard penalty, scored on the very next play on a 22-yard run by none other than Darkwa to tie the game at 21 heading into the fourth quarter.
Tulane's momentum came to a sudden halt in the fourth quarter when Powell threw an interception that gave the Ragin' Cajuns the ball at the Tulane 13-yard line. The Green Wave defense was able to hold ULL to a rare field goal to stay within striking distance at 24-21, though.
That's @ULRaginCajuns 1st field goal since October 22— New Orleans Bowl (@NewOrleansBowl) December 22, 2013
Tulane answered by driving the ball to the Lafayette 39-yard line but elected to punt the ball with over seven minutes remaining rather than kick a 56-yard field goal. It almost cost them.
Lafayette took over at its own 9-yard line and ate up over six minutes of clock before giving the Green Wave the ball back at their own 5-yard line with just 1:10 remaining.
Despite his struggles for much of the game, Powell came through in the clutch on the final drive. He connected with Justyn Shackleford and Grant for gains of 34 and 27 yards to set up a 48-yard field goal attempt for Cairo Santos with 13 seconds left, but it wasn't meant to be as he hooked it right of the uprights and the Ragin' Cajuns once again claimed the New Orleans Bowl victory.
Orleans Darkwa, RB, Tulane: A
It doesn't get much better than a guy named Orleans taking over the New Orleans Bowl.
With his team down 21-0 early in the second quarter, it appeared that Tulane was completely out of the game. That's when Darkwa's touchdown barrage got started and put the Green Wave back into the game.
His third touchdown run put his career in some elite company at Tulane, too:
#tulane's Orleans Darkwa goes 22 yards for the score and ties Matt Forte's all-time career rushing TD record of 39.— Tammy Nunez (@tammynunez) December 22, 2013
Terrance Broadway, QB, UL-Lafayette: B-
Coming in as the MVP of the 2012 New Orleans Bowl, the Ragin' Cajuns were hoping that Terrance Broadway could come back from a broken arm suffered less than a month ago and lead his team to victory.
He did it, but it wasn't always pretty.
Instead, Broadway looked a little shaky throughout the night. His two interceptions were costly for the Cajuns as the second one set up the equalizing touchdown for Tulane and kept the Green Wave in the game.
Fortunately for him and the Cajuns, his play in the fourth quarter was just enough to pick up the narrow victory.
Ryan Grant, WR, Tulane: B+
Grant wasn't put in an easy situation in this game. Neither Nick Montana nor Devin Powell impressed at the quarterback position. Yet, he still found a way to have an impact on the game and put up respectable numbers.
His ability to haul in the 50-yard pass in the second quarter was a huge reason the Green Wave were able to get back into the game and showed his potential as an NFL prospect:
What a grab by Ryan Grant. Reminded me of Emmanuel Sanders when I watched him this year.— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) December 22, 2013
Elijah McGuire, RB, UL-Lafayette: A
As good as Orleans Darkwa was in this game, he really wasn't the most impressive running back on the field. That distinction would belong to freshman back Elijah McGuire.
While the Ragin' Cajuns featured a backfield by committee approach with the carries being split evenly between McGuire, Alonzo Harris and Broadway, he made a difference in both the run and passing game. Along with his 45 rushing yards he had 94 receiving yards.
Nick Montana/Devin Powell, QB, Tulane: D-
Nick Montana's season as the Tulane starter was marked by inconsistency and it certainly showed in the bowl game. He was just 5-of-8 for 63 yards and an interception before Devin Powell was brought in to take over.
The more athletic Powell had some moments, but his play was nothing to write home about either. He also threw an interception and failed to give the offense the sustained spark it needed.
This was an important bowl game matchup for both Louisiana teams. As College GameDay tweeted out before the game, Lafayette was looking to add to its impressive streak of bowl victories while Tulane was making its first bowl appearance in over a decade:
Louisiana-Lafayette is seeking their 3rd straight #NewOrleansBowl victory, while in-state foe Tulane is bowling for the 1st time since 2002.— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) December 22, 2013
Hudspeth has now led the Ragin' Cajuns to three consecutive 9-4 seasons and continues to keep his team playing at a high level year in and year out. This win continues that tradition as he cements ULL as one of the most consistent college football programs in the Sun Belt Conference.
For Tulane, this was a banner year that Curtis Johnson and Co. should be proud of. They took an experienced bowl team to the limit and have something to build on as they look forward to the 2014 season.