|Terrance Broadway was named New Orleans Bowl MVP after a huge game.(US Presswire)|
LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE WON. After staying home from bowl season for every year of their FBS existence and posting one winning record from 1995 to 2010, the Ragin' Cajuns are now back-to-back New Orleans Bowl champions. ULL quarterback Terrance Broadway was named bowl MVP -- and takes home this awesome trophy -- after completing 21 of 32 passes for 317 yards and a touchdown while adding 108 yards and another score o nthe ground.
But the Cajuns can also thank their defense, which after being shredded for most of the second and third quarters stopped the Pirates on four consecutive fourth-quarter drives on which a touchdown would have given East Carolina the lead.
WHY LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE WON. It would be tempting to point the finger first and foremost at ECU's inability to take advantage of opportunities. Of those four failed fourth-quarter drives, one went inside the Cajun 10 and another started at the ULL 39 after an ECU interception. And the Pirates might have already taken the lead if not for a dreadful case of the dropsies on the part of their receivers, with Jabril Solomon accounting for three on his own.
But pointing that finger means pointing it away from Broadway and the outstanding Cajun offense, which racked up 591 yards -- 170 more than ECU's -- behind Broadway's masterful, poised dual-threat performance and inventive inside-outside play-calling. The biggest drive of the game came in the third quarter, with ECU having erased a 21-point deficit to tie things at 31. ULL responded by going 76 yards in seven plays, including a pair of highlight-reel catches -- one for a touchdown ECU fans will no doubt argue bounced off the ground -- from receiver Javone Lawson.
The contrast between Lawson and the butterfingered Pirates wideouts summed up the game: Both offenses came to play. But the Cajun offense made just a few more plays than the opponents, and it was enough to take home the title.
WHEN LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE WON. Facing fourth-and-5 with under three minutes to play at its own 30, ECU had to go, and -- as seemed to happen frequently down the stretch -- Shane Carden rolled to his right and found no one open. He threw short to Andrew Bodenheimer, who had a chance at making the catch, but had it broken up by the ULL defense. Brett Baer's icing field goal on the ensuing possession just made it official.
WHAT LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE WON. A ninth game this season -- the Cajuns' second straight nine-win season after not once hitting that mark since their Southland Conference days in 1976. If Mark Hudspeth repeats that feat or something similar in 2013 (and the return of Broadway suggests it's likely), the odds he's still in Lafayette in 2014 are low, low, low.
WHAT EAST CAROLINA LOST. The Pirates' 2012 season was a success even after Saturday's loss, what with it being the first eight-win season of Ruffin McNeill's tenure, the shared Conference USA East title, the return to the postseason after a disappointing 2011. But with that 8-5 record padded by lots of close wins over inferior teams and blowout losses to any team with a postseason pulse, a win over ULL would have gone a long way toward validating the idea that McNeill's team was legitimately on its way back into C-USA contention, rather than just a product of a Tulsa-less schedule. No such luck.
FINAL BOWL GRADE: A fourth quarter featuring just three field goals and no down-to-the-wire drama was something of a letdown after the previous three quarters of fireworks -- the 45 combined points in the second quarter tied an NCAA bowl record set in 2000 by Nebraska and Northwestern in the Alamo Bowl -- but it wasn't enough to make what was already a high-scoring back-and-forth affair anything less than a delight. Grade: B+