ULL drops season finale to Tulane in AutoNation Cure Bowl
Louisiana football pulled within one score of Tulane in the fourth quarter but could not overcome a deficit created by 24 unanswered first-half points by the Green Wave, who went on to defeat the Ragin’ Cajuns 41-24 Saturday afternoon.
The Ragin’ Cajuns were down just 27-24 with 10:16 remaining in the game, but two touchdowns by the Green Wave in 43 seconds with under four minutes remaining in the ball game were the difference.
Tulane’s Darius Bradwell was named the game’s MVP, rushing for 150 yards to set a new Cure Bowl record and scoring two touchdowns on the ground. His 150 rushing yards and 35 carries were career highs as well as the largest totals in those categories in Green Wave bowl history. He reached 1,000 yards on the season as well, marking just the eighth time a Tulane player reached 1,000 yards in a single year.
Tulane scored on its first four possessions and set a season high with 28 first downs.
The victory gives Tulane (7-6) its first winning season since 2013 and just the program’s fourth winning season since 2000. The bowl victory was Tulane’s first since the 2002 Hawaii Bowl, and the team is now 5-7 all-time in bowl games.
Louisiana jumped ahead early, marching 37 yards in five plays before junior running back Raymond Calais broke free down the left side of the field for 38 yards to give the Ragin’ Cajuns a 7-0 lead 2:35 into the contest.
It was all Tulane for the remainder of the opening quarter after the Green Wave scored 21 unanswered points to take a 14-point advantage after 15 minutes of play.
Tulane answered Louisiana-Lafayette’s score right back with Amare Jones taking the ball 33 yards down the right sideline to put the Green Wave near the red zone. Three plays later, Bradwell plowed over the goal line from 15 yards out to tie the game at 7.
Following a defensive sequence that saw a sack from Lawrence Graham, Tulane took its first lead of the game on its second possession. Starting with the ball just 55 yards from the end zone, Corey Dauphine, Stephon Huderson and quarterback Justin McMillan ran on the first five plays of the drive to get Tulane to the Louisiana-Lafayette 38.
Then, McMillan found Terren Encalade on a pass to the left side. Encalade shook one tackle and was gone for the 15th and final touchdown of his Tulane career.
Jones made it three Tulane touchdowns on three drives late in the first quarter, getting in from 1 yard out on a second effort.
The Green Wave offense was aided by 40 rushing yards from McMillan on that drive, and Bradwell eclipsed 1,000 yards for the season on that drive.
The Green Wave’s 21 first-quarter points were the most points in any quarter in Tulane bowl history.
Louisiana’s defense recorded a big stop late in the first half when sophomore defensive back Bralen Trahan intercepted Tulane’s Justin McMillan for Trahan’s first interception of the season. He returned the pick 63 yards to set up the Ragin’ Cajuns at the Tulane 37.
From there, the offense gained 13 yards to set up a 43-yard field goal for senior kicker Kyle Pfau, which he hit to pull Louisiana within 14 points at 24-10 at halftime.
The Green Wave was nearly unstoppable on offense in the first half, racking up 294 yards.
And on defense, the team was stellar as well. After going 75 yards for a score on their first drive, the Ragin’ Cajuns only accumulated 26 combined yards on their next five drives in the half.
Following a big fourth-down stop on Tulane’s opening drive, the Louisiana offense took over and got going early when senior quarterback Andre Nunez hit junior wide receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley for 26 yards to move into Green Wave territory. Four plays later, sophomore running back Elijah Mitchell scored from three yards out to pull the Cajuns within 24-17.
After Tulane answered with a 26-yard field goal to go ahead 27-17 with 2:58 left in the third quarter, Louisiana scored the opening touchdown of the fourth quarter when Nunez connected with junior wide receiver Jarrod Jackson, who overpowered his defender to haul in the 13-yard pass to cut the Green Wave lead to 27-24 with 10:16 remaining.
From there, Tulane mounted a 13-play, 75-yard drive that lasted 6:27 and ended in Bradwell’s second touchdown of the game. Starting on its own 25-yard line, Tulane marched into Louisiana-Lafayette territory and seemed on its way to a score. But the Cajuns’ defense buckled down and forced a fourth-and-7 situation from the 30-yard line.
On that play, McMillan found senior tight end Charles Jones II, who had the game-winning 2-point conversion against Navy Nov. 24 to make Tulane bowl-eligible, for a 15-yard reception that kept the drive alive.
Four plays later, Bradwell ran into the end zone from four yards out to make it 34-24 with 3:49 remaining
The Cajuns threw three straight incomplete passes on their next drive, and Cameron Sample got a sack on fourth down to put the ball back in Tulane’s hands late.
The Green Wave made the Cajuns use all their timeouts, and McMillan scored a 16-yard rushing touchdown 43 seconds after the previous Tulane score to make it 41-24 and seal the game with three minutes to go.
Tulane finished the game with 6.5 sacks, and its 42.5 total sacks this year was the third-best total in program history.
Zachery Harris was the team’s leading tackler with eight tackles, and four other players had at least four tackles. Harris and Graham had two sacks apiece, and Harris had one other tackle for loss.
Through the air, McMillan finished 11 of 18 for 145 yards and one touchdown. He also added 72 yards and a touchdown rushing.
Encalade was McMillan’s top target with five catches for 93 yards and a touchdown. Jabril Clewis and Will Wallace had two catches each.
The Green Wave extended their streak of 100-yard rushing games to 40, totaling 337 yards for their second-highest total this year.
On special teams, Merek Glover made two made field goals and finished a perfect 5-of-5 performance on extra points.
Nunez finished the game 8-for-17 for 136 yards and a touchdown, while senior wide receiver Ryheem Malone led the receiving corps with 59 yards on three receptions.
Louisiana-Lafayette sophomore running back Trey Ragas carried the ball 10 times for 40 yards, just ahead of Calais, who led the team in total rushing with 41 yards and a touchdown on three carries.
Defensively, Louisiana-Lafayette junior linebacker Ferrod Gardner led the team with eight tackles, followed by seven tackles from senior defensive end Garrald McDowell. Trahan had six tackles and an interception, which he returned 63 yards.
Ja'len Johnson, a Louisiana redshirt freshman and Central Catholic alum, had three total tackles, including one solo. Fellow Central Catholic alum and Louisiana sophomore Tanner Wiggins also received playing time.