Late field goal sinks SDSU in New Orleans Bowl
By BRETT MARTEL
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.
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.
Updated December 18, 2011