After the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns raced out to a 28-7 lead in the first half, East Carolina clawed back and had the ball with 3 minutes remaining in the game with a chance to go-ahead. On fourth down and five from their own 30 yard line, Shane Carden rolled out and found Andrew Bodenheimer, but the senior wide receiver was unable to hold on, consequently sealing the Pirates fate.
The Ragin’ Cajuns (9-4) survived to win 43-34 in Saturday’s R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl; a bowl they have now won in consecutive seasons.
Before a New Orleans Bowl record crowd of 48,828 at the Mercedes Benz Superdome, Carden completed 25 of his 42 passes for 278 yards and two touchdowns, while senior tailback Reggie Bullock rushed for 104 yards and a score on 17 carries.
ECU has now dropped its last four bowl appearances, with its last win being a 41-38 decision against Boise State in the 2007 Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. The Pirates finished the 2012 season with an 8-5 record; head coach Ruffin McNeill’s first winning campaign.
La. Lafayette sophomore quarterback Terrance Broadway, the game’s most valuable player, found holes in the ECU defense on multiple occasions and torched them for big plays. Broadway finished 21-32 passing for 316 yards and touchdown, while rushing for 108 yards and another score. Running back Alonzo Harris rushed for 120 yards, including a 68 yard touchdown run in the second quarter that capped a 98 yard drive.
Following the long run, the Pirates responded with two touchdowns in a 15 second span. First, an 80 yard touchdown drive that ended with a 19 yard strike from Carden to Justin Hardy. On the ensuing kickoff, senior Justin Venable forced a fumble and recovered it. On the next play, Carden hit Danny Webster for a 16 yard touchdown connection.
The Ragin’ Cajuns added a field goal as the first half expired to extend their lead to 31-21. Saturday’s second quarter tied a record for the most points scored in a quarter with 45.
ECU opened the second half with a huge spark, with the defense forcing ULL’s offense to go three-and-out on its first two possessions. The Pirates offense took advantage by scoring on their first two opportunities and knotting up the game at 31-31.
ULL’s next drive ended with a little bit of controversy when Broadway appeared to have completed a pass to Javone Lawson for a 14 yard touchdown. When looking at the video replay, the ball may have touched the turf before being juggled and controlled by Lawson. It was never reviewed, and the Ragin’ Cajuns led 37-31 after a blocked PAT by Michael Brooks.
The Pirates looked like they were going to pull ahead when they drove into the redzone on their next possession, but was forced to settle for a 26 yard Warren Harvey field goal that made it 37-34.
ECU’s defense would give the offense an opportunity to tie or go-ahead when linebacker Gabe Woullard intercepted a deflected Broadway pass. Two plays later, the opportunity was spoiled when Carden took a shot down the middle of the field that was picked off by Jemario Moten.
The Ragin’ Cajuns would tack-on field goals on their final two drives while the ECU offense never recovered and couldn’t put anything together.
Hardy had five receptions for 59 yards, finishing 19 yards short of Dwayne Harris’ single-season receiving record. 1,000 yard tailback Vintavious Cooper, who missed multiple practices due to flu-like symptoms, struggled Saturday and only mustered up 19 rushing yards.
ECU will return 23 of its 29 offensive players who played significant minutes in 2012 when the Pirates take the field in 2012. The football program will remain a part of a depleted Conference USA in 2013, before making the jump to the Big East in 2014.