There's no place like dome.

(Special thanks to our freelance photographers, who joined Photo Editor Robin May in covering the 2012 New Orleans Bowl for IND Monthly: Paul Angelle, Buddy Delahoussaye, Jay Faugot, Travis Gauthier and John Mosier. View IND Monthly's New Orleans Bowl photo gallery on Facebook here.)

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Photo by Travis Gauthier

SECOND VERSE SAME AS THE FIRST

Ragin’ Cajuns fans wondered, going into the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, if it was going to be just as sweet the second time around.

It was going to be hard, considering the bowl’s 2011 edition may have been the most heart-stopping of the entire bowl season. UL’s 32-30 win over San Diego State had also been filed away as perhaps the biggest win on the biggest stage in the program’s history.

This year’s edition might not have been as stressful and iconic at the end, but few Cajun followers were complaining following the 43-34 victory over East Carolina in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
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Photo by Robin May 

The Cajuns got their offense going, set a handful of bowl records and came up with defensive stops at key times in taking their second straight bowl victory and finishing their second straight 9-4 season.

There were more than a handful of reasons for that win, and even more stories that emerged as UL thrilled a heavily partisan and bowl-record 48,828 fans who answered coach Mark Hudspeth’s challenge to turn the Dome into a larger, climate-controlled version of Cajun Field.

Here are only a few of those reasons and stories from a memorable Dec. 22.

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Photo by Jay Faugot    

BROADWAY LIGHTS UP

Over the final two-thirds of UL’s 2012 football season, Terrance Broadway went from being a backup quarterback to the Sun Belt Conference’s biggest offensive threat.

All anyone needed to do was watch the Ragin’ Cajun sophomore during the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, where he was named the Most Valuable Player, and the only question was how any media in attendance voted for anyone else. Amazingly, he wasn’t a unanimous pick, but that’s just being picky.

With apologies to a Sun Belt that has several offensive game-changers, it’s Broadway who will be giving league defensive coordinators the most vivid nightmares when they game-plan against the Cajuns next year.

“Tonight, Terrance was on fire,” Hudspeth said after Broadway torched East Carolina’s defenders throughout the 43-34 win. “The second half of the season, we’ve played as well offensively as anybody in the country.”

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Photo by John Mosier 

Broadway was the biggest reason, both for the offensive success and the Cajuns’ second straight New Orleans bowl win. Despite not starting the first two conference games and having to step in when returnee Blaine Gautier went down with a broken wrist, Broadway ended the year as the Sun Belt leader in offense and passing in conference games.

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Photo by Buddy Delahoussaye

In the bowl game, he hit 21-of-32 passes for 316 yards and a late third-quarter touchdown pass to Javone Lawson that gave UL the lead for good. He also had 108 rush yards, the third time in UL’s final four games he went over 100 yards rushing.

“The goal was to get our team a big win in a bowl game,” he said, “and get that monkey off my back — that I didn’t have a ring from high school or one last year.”

The Baton Rouge product started shaking that ring-less status right at the start, as Broadway led the Cajuns 73 yards on UL’s first possession. On second down from the ECU 12, he pulled the ball back from tailback Alonzo Harris’ belly on an option and scored almost untouched.

Three and one-half quarters later, Broadway was on the quickly constructed stage at midfield with Hudspeth, UL President Joe Savoie, Athletic Director Scott Farmer and several bowl officials, accepting his MVP award.

“No question to me he’s the best in this conference,” Hudspeth said.

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Photo by Jay Faugot
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Photo by Bill Harper

THREE-PEAT?

After not playing in any form of postseason game for 41 years, UL has now won two straight New Orleans Bowl trophies — the 32-30 last-play win over San Diego State one year ago, and this year’s 43-34 victory over East Carolina.

Only one other team in the country matched the Cajuns’ back-to-back victories in the same bowl during the 2012 bowl season, and one more can do that. For that to happen, though, Alabama has to win its second straight national title and beat Notre Dame in the BCS title game Jan. 7 in Miami.

The only other repeat this year was Boise State’s 28-26 win over Washington in the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl.

“What about a three-peat?” junior center Andre Huval asked just before running off the Superdome turf following the win.

If the Cajuns can pull that off, returning to next year’s New Orleans Bowl and winning again, they would put themselves in a select group in college football history. Since the bowl games began (the Rose Bowl was played in 1902 as the first one), only nine teams in NCAA history have won the same bowl game three straight times — Toledo in the Tangerine (now the Capital One) in 1969-71, Arizona State in the Fiesta in 1971-73, Nebraska in the Orange in 1971-73, Miami-Ohio in the Tangerine in 1973-75, Alabama in the Sugar in 1978-80, Oklahoma in the Orange in 1979-81, Marshall in the Motor City (now the Little Caesars) in 1998-2000, USC in the Rose in 2007-09 and Boise in the Las Vegas in 2010-12.

J-MO GOES LARGE

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Photo by Paul Angelle

He’s only 175 pounds and may be less than his listed 5-foot-11, but Jermarlous Moten made two big-time fourth-quarter plays that helped the Cajun defense survive after East Carolina’s offense threatened a second-half turnaround.

UL led only 37-34, and the Pirates had possession in Cajun territory before Moten broke from his cornerback position and picked off ECU quarterback Shane Carden at the UL 8 to prevent what could have been a tying field goal or more.

One drive later, the Pirates were at their own 35 and faced a third-down, before the first-team all-Sun Belt pick batted away a pass and forced a punt. The Cajuns took possession after that kick and went on a 77-yard march to a Brett Baer field goal — a drive that consumed more than five crucial minutes.

“We’d lost the momentum, and we needed it back,” said Moten of his fourth interception of the year. “They’d been beating us on that route, and on that one they sort of baited me and I just jumped the ball. I don’t think he really saw me.”

Moten could have had an earlier pick, when he successfully read an attempted throwback pass from ECU receiver Justin Hardy and had what would have been an easy pick six fly between his hands.

“I should have had it,” he said, “but it’s still good when they try a play like that and you mess it up.”

‘A TEAM PLAYER’

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Photo by Paul Angelle

Blaine Gautier had every right to be bitter about most of his 2012 season, but the smile on his face during New Orleans Bowl week let everyone know he wasn’t about to wallow in pity.

One year ago, the Lutcher product capped a storybook season when he put the Cajuns on his back and lifted them to the New Orleans Bowl title. He threw for 470 yards and three scores, setting bowl records for total offense and passing, and cemented his game Most Valuable Player honors by driving UL 49 yards in only 26 seconds to set up Brett Baer’s winning field goal.

More great things were expected this year, until the second quarter of what eventually became an easy 48-20 win over preseason Sun Belt Conference favorite Florida International. During a Cajun possession in that period, Gautier was hit and tried to brace himself when he went to the Cajun Field turf. Diagnosis: a broken left (throwing) wrist.

The injury sidelined him for almost two months, and he only saw limited playing time in season-ending wins over South Alabama and Florida Atlantic. But instead of hand-wringing, he threw his full support behind backup Broadway — who went on to set the school’s total offense record despite starting only the final eight games.

“You never want to lose your starting quarterback, especially a senior,” Hudspeth said after the bowl win. “But Blaine understands, and Terrance came in and had a phenomenal season.”

“It’s a big credit to Blaine and his maturity in how he’s handled it all,” UL offensive coordinator and QB coach Jay Johnson said during bowl week. “I talked to him right when it [his injury] happened, and said that this team needed him. He’s handled it well, he’s been a team guy, and credit him for that because we really needed him to do that.”

Gautier had thrown for 236 yards against Oklahoma State one week before going out of the FIU game — one in which he threw for 86 yards and a score in just over one quarter.

“The bad thing was that he was starting to play the best he’d played all year,” Johnson said. “The first one and a half quarters against FIU, he was playing lights out.”

Hudspeth promised everyone that Gautier would play in the New Orleans Bowl, and he made good on that when he inserted the senior midway through the second quarter. It wasn’t the easiest spot, with UL at its own 2-yard-line, but all Gautier did was lead a 98-yard touchdown march — the Cajuns’ second-longest of the year.

“Those are two outstanding leaders,” Hudsepth said after the bowl win. “I don’t know if anyone in the country has two quarterbacks like we have.”

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

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Photo by Robin May

While his teammates were laughing, shouting and enjoying the moment after the bowl’s final horn, Le’Marcus Gibson (above, without shoulder pads) couldn’t hold back the tears during the award presentation.

“This is the best thing I’ve ever experienced,” the senior linebacker managed to blurt out not long after he finished the New Orleans Bowl with seven tackles and five solo stops. But for Gibson, who’d been told for years he was too small to be a college standout (6-0, 205), just playing and making an impact in his final game was enough.

The Starkville, Miss., native didn’t play in last year’s bowl game after breaking his leg in the 11th game of the season at Arkansas State. One year earlier, he missed the final five games with a knee injury. Both times, there were doubts he would return to his previous playing level.

But there he was, in the middle of a fourth-quarter UL defensive effort that held ECU to two first downs, 52 total yards and 0-for-3 on third downs in the final period. He also made the tackle on second down on the final, win-locking series.

“When it came down to the last five minutes,” Gibson said, “I sort of realized that this is it. This was going to be what we’d remember.”

BAER-LY MAKING IT

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Photo by Jay Faugot

Senior kicker Brett Baer etched his name in NCAA history during his four-year Cajun career, but it didn’t happen until the final 10 seconds of his final collegiate game.

Baer had already made the biggest kick in UL history one year earlier with the 50-yard final-play boot that won the 2011 New Orleans Bowl. But he added to his Crescent City lore with three more field goals in this year’s win, two of them coming in the final 3:11 to salt away the UL win, and became the bowl’s all-time leader in career field goals (five).

The last of those was a 39-yarder with 10 seconds left, but other than clinching the win, few realized the significance of the kick that made him the most accurate field-goal kicker in Football Bowl Subdivision history.

That kick was his 50th career attempt, and he finished up 45-of-50 — 90 percent. That’s better than the NCAA record book’s listed mark of 89.5 (68-of-76) set by Nebraska’s Alex Henery from 2007-10, among players with 50 or more attempts.

The Brandon, Miss., product was 20-of-23 this year and made his last nine attempts. He had a school-record streak of 18 straight field goals spanning the last two seasons before missing during UL’s win over Tulane.

DEJA VU

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Photo by Jay Faugot

Baer must have had flashbacks at the end of the New Orleans Bowl’s first half.

The Ragin’ Cajuns’ all-time leading kick scorer ended last year’s game with the now-legendary 50-yard field goal against San Diego State. This year, with four seconds left on the Superdome clock — the same amount of time that was displayed before last year’s game-winner — there was Baer again, lined up for another 50-yarder aimed at the same goal post. And, just like last year, the kick sailed through the Poydras Street-end uprights, giving the Cajuns a 31-21 halftime lead.

“This time, it was closer to the other hash,” Baer said after the game and after tying his own bowl record for longest field goal. “There wasn’t as much pressure on this one, but our offense has taken the pressure off everyone all year. If Terrance had some of those fourth-downs back, he’d want to go for touchdowns and I’d be all for that. I like watching our offense.

“But if I have to come up and do some clean-up duty, that’s fine.”

UPON FURTHER REVIEW

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Photo by Jay Faugot

The Cajuns were the beneficiaries of two replay situations during the game — one overturned and one upheld.

The biggest was the latter and came at the end of Alonzo Harris’ bowl-record 68-yard touchdown run that gave UL a 28-7 lead midway through the second quarter. Harris took a handoff from Gautier on a play called “11 Pull” and cut back across the grain on the way to his longest run of the year, but as he crossed the goal line the ball popped from his arm when hit by an ECU defender.

The replay booth — headed by longtime college basketball and football official Jim Harvey — took a long look, but did not see enough evidence to overturn the touchdown call on the field.

“I was pretty sure I crossed the line with the ball,” said Harris, who finished with a game-high 120 yards (fourth-most in bowl history) and two scores. “The coaches kept coming up to me and asking me, but I was positive. It did seem like it took forever.”

Gautier wasn’t so sure, and he was close to the play, running behind Harris and the defender.

“I kept yelling for him to just go because I don’t think he heard him [the defender],” Gautier said. “There was so much noise.”

The game’s only replay overturn came one series before Harris’ score, when an ECU pass was ruled complete right in front of the Cajun bench five minutes into the second quarter. Replay showed the pass was still being bobbled by ECU receiver Jabril Soloman, and the Pirates eventually had to punt.

EMEKA-ING HIS MARK

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Photo by Paul Angelle
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Photo by Robin May

It’s a good bet there wasn’t anyone on the Superdome turf any happier than Emeka Onyenekwu after the New Orleans Bowl win.

Even under normal conditions, there aren’t many happier people than the always-positive and smiling Onyenekwu. But with two bowl wins in two years in a hometown that his family had to flee in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the smile was unusually large.

“This feels better than the first one,” he said in between hugs from fans who have become friends. “This is home, and to be able to celebrate here with my family and friends ...” he added before his voice tailed off.

Onyenekwu had five tackles and two for losses in the bowl, adding to his team-leading total of 14 tackles for minus yardage during a season in which he earned All-Sun Belt first team honors. He memorably had two and one-half sacks and eight solo tackles against sixth-ranked Florida, and was part of a defense that throttled East Carolina’s offense in the bowl’s final quarter.

“All of us had to go out and make a play,” he said. “The coaches are always saying that big-time players make big-time plays, so we just had to go out and get it done.”

OH MY, O-LINE!

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Photo by Buddy Delahoussaye

The Cajuns had several key injuries in their offensive “skill” positions during the 2012 season — Gautier going down, opening-game running back starter Montrel Carter lost for the year in that opener, and standout receivers Harry Peoples and Javone Lawson both missing

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Photo by Jay Faugot

extended time — but rarely missed a beat. In fact, the offense set season records for points (461, topping 2008’s 397), yards (5,914, topping 2008’s 5,390 total), first downs (268, beating the 256 in 1995) and offensive plays (873, topping the 856 in 1995).

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Photo by Paul Angelle

The unheralded reason for those numbers was consistency in the offensive line, which led the Cajuns to two Sun Belt statistical titles (486.2 yards per game in total offense, 200.6 yards in rushing). That quintet — center Andre Huval, guards Daniel and Mikhael Quave and tackles Jaron Odom and Leonardo Bates — started as a unit for the 13th straight game in New Orleans.

Except for Mikhael Quave, a redshirt freshman, the other four in that group also started all 13 games the Cajuns played in 2011. One season with that consistency is rare in college football, but two?

“Twenty-six games together without missing a start, that’s pretty impressive,” Hudspeth said.

“This wasn’t quite as stressful as last year’s game,” said Huval, who calls the offensive line signals from his center slot. “Other than the one turnover we had, this was special to us. You can tell the way that we’ve been together by the way we run the ball (a bowl-record 267 rush yards and four rushing touchdowns in the win).”

Not long after Hudspeth accepted the game trophy, he sought out Huval on the way to the locker room. “I gotta hug this guy,” Hudspeth said. “He’s not a center ... he’s another quarterback out there for us.”

THE RED SEA

Hudspeth said upon arrival in New Orleans that the Cajun Nation wasn’t far behind him, and they were ready to get the party started.

He wasn’t kidding. UL sold more than 21,700 tickets through its own ticket office, a big jump from last year’s 18,862 sale and possibly the nation’s highest figure for on-campus pre-sale for bowl tickets. That’s more than double what Florida sold for its Allstate Sugar Bowl trip to the Crescent City.

A lot more UL fans bought tickets through other outlets, boosting the attendance for the game to 48,828. That easily topped the previous bowl record of 42,481 set for the UL-San Diego State game last year. Prior to the Cajuns’ participation in the game, the previous New Orleans Bowl attendance mark was 30,228 in 2009.

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Photo by Jay Faugot

That total would have ranked 19th among the nation’s 35 bowls last year. This year’s final attendance totals for all bowls aren’t yet available, but this year’s mark may rank even higher.

Total attendance for the last two Cajun appearances in the New Orleans Bowl is 91,309, which is more than the next three highest bowl attendances combined.

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Photo by Travis Gauthier

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