This site is almost solely dedicated to LSU sports, particularly football, but I wanted to take a timeout and applaud the team a little over an hour’s drive west of Baton Rouge.
The university formerly known as USL, and now called ULL, saw their football team go to a bowl game for the first time in 41 years – an eternity in college athletics. Under the guidance of Mark Hudspeth, the Ragin’ Cajuns achieved an 8-4 record and a trip to the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.
The Mercedes-Benz Superdome was a sea of red and black as thousands of ULL fans from in and around the Lafayette area swarmed to the Crescent City to hopefully see their team make history against the San Diego State Aztecs.
It was almost all ULL up to the third quarter as the team was feeding off the energy from the crowd. The Cajuns were playing with intensity, passion, and had some good ju-ju in their favor on turnovers and penalties. However, it was in the fourth quarter that saw the tide start to swing.
The Aztecs began fighting their way back from a 19-3 deficit and pulled ahead 30-29 with only 35 seconds left in the 4th quarter. The Superdome was as quiet as a night in the swamp as Cajun’s QB Blaine Gautier strode out onto the field with the offense. Starting from their own 18 yard line Gautier had to lead the Cajuns to within field goal range for a chance to win.
The drive started off brilliantly as Gautier hit two quick strikes for first downs – one for 13 yards, one for 26 yards, both going to Javone Lawson.
After an incomplete pass and a San Diego State timeout Gautier hit Harry Peoples for a 5 yard gain which brought the Cajuns to the Aztec 38 yard line. An illegal shift penalty brought the ball to the San Diego State 33 yard line which meant that ULL kicker Brett Baer would have to hit a 50 yard field goal to give the Cajuns their first bowl win since 1944.
In 1944, ULL had already gone through one name change. The university was established in 1900 as Southwestern Louisiana Industrial Institute and carried that name up until 1921 when they dropped the word “industrial” and streamlined themselves as Southwestern Louisiana Institute (SLI).
Twenty three years following the SLI name change, the Oil Bowl was in its inaugural year and, as history would have it, would have have a three year run as a bowl game. The game was to be played on Rice Field in Houston, Texas. The bowl would be hard-pressed for participants in 1944 as World War II was still raging. College aged young men were pushing back the armies of Adolph Hitler and Emperor Hirohito.
The ones that didn’t or couldn’t serve were working in the plants or in offices, mostly all contributing to the war effort in some fashion. Due to the decrease in enrollment because of the need for men to carry on the war, some colleges feared they would have to close their doors. In order to prevent that from happening, the United States government instituted the V-12 program under the direction of the U.S. Navy. The program was initialized to bolster the ranks of officers in the U.S. Navy as well as the U.S. Marine Corps and it’s main purpose was to “give prospective Naval officers the benefits of a college education in those areas most needed by the Navy.”
The major universities in Louisiana responded by embracing the V-12 program with LSU, Loyola, and Tulane offering their medical facilities to train future corpsmen and doctors for the Navy and Marines. SLI along with Louisiana Tech and Tulane offered their full campus and course load to educate future naval officers. The bulk of the SLI football team in 1944 was comprised of future U.S. Navy and Marine officers as they took the field against Arkansas-Monticello.
The SLI team boasted 175 players from other colleges across the country due to their involvment in the V-12 program. They went on to beat Arkansas-Monticello 24-7 in the 1944 Oil Bowl. The following year the Oil Bowl went on hiatus only to return in 1946 and 1947 before finally fading into history.
That victory was the last bowl game for SLI. In 1960 the university once again changed it’s name to Southwestern Louisiana University. That same year the university hired a coach named Russ Faulkinberry.
Russell Miller “Russ” Faulkinberry was born in 1928, the son of Frank Faulkinberry, the head football coach of Middle Tennessee State College. Growing up all Russ knew was sports and he excelled in all that he played including football along with basketball and track while he was in high school. His leadership skills were developed at a young age as he was nominated captain of the football and basketball teams while also being awarded the Headmaster’s Award for Exceptional Merit.
His success on the field as well as in the classroom earned the future coach Faulkinberry a scholarhisp to Vanderbilt where he made the All SEC Freshman Team. He followed up that accomplishment by being named to the All SEC Sophomore Team and made 2nd Team All SEC in his senior season.
In 1951, Russ was invited to and played in the Senior Bowl and was awarded 3rd Team All American honors. Following his collegiate career, he became head football and basketball coach at Gallatin High School in Gallatin, Tennessee. His stint in Gallatin was short because in 1952 he enrolled in Navy to fight in the Korean War.
Following his four year stint, Russ accepted a position as the head coach at Southeastern Louisiana University. Following three other stops after the gig at SLU, Coach Russ accepted the head football coach job at USL as SLI was now called. Coach Russ would stay in Lafayette from 1961 until 1973 where he was unceremoniously fired by new athletic director Raymond Authement.
During his time at USL, Russ Faulkinberry became the schools all time leader in wins at 66, brought them to their first bowl game since 1944 and 8 winning seasons. However, his most lasting impression at USL was changing the nickname of the football team in 1963 from the “Bulldogs” to the “Ragin’ Cajun”. It took 11 years but in 1974 the name change became official for all the male athletic teams playing for ULL. In 2006-2007, all of the lady teams for ULL adopted the “Ragin’ Cajun” moniker as well.
The name change has been one of the most successful in NCAA history and was given additional flair by the university adopting a cayenne pepper as it’s mascot.
Brett Baer, the kicker for UL-L, had previously had an extra point blocked during the game and he had also missed an extra point. On the season he had gone 5/6 from 40+ yards but had not yet attempted a 50+ yard field goal during any of the Cajuns’ regular season games.
Coming into this game, Baer was a 90% field goal kicker having made 17 of 19. The Cajuns season rested on his leg much like the Saints season rested on the leg of Garrett Hartley on January 24, 2010 on that same Superdome field.
Baer reared back and launched the ball for all it was worth. San Diego State attempted but failed to block it. As the ball sailed the through air countless Cajuns’ fans held their collective breath as exhaled deeply the kick sailed through to give the University of Louisiana at Lafayette its first bowl win in 67 years.
Baer was the first to know it was good, likely after it left his foot, and began the celebration that lasted throughout the night in New Orleans. Last night, despite which allegiance any Louisianian has to which in-state college, we were all Cajuns.