LAFAYETTE, La. (Press Release) – ULM football lore is filled with memorable quarterbacks, who could fill up a box score.
Still, quarterback Caleb Evans was in rare air Saturday in a dazzling performance for the ages.
The sophomore accounted for 472 yards of total offense and had a hand in six touchdowns in a wild 56-50 double-overtime win over UL Lafayette at Cajun Field.
"Caleb played a phenomenal game," ULM receiver Marcus Green said. "I was just telling him to keep leading us to the promised land, man. Every time the ball is in his hand, we trust him to make that play whether through the air or on the ground. He did a great job for us tonight and I commend him for that."
Evans' five rushing touchdowns tied ULM's school record set by running back Thomas Koufie against Georgia State in 2016.
"I never did that before," Evans said. "My feet took over, as well as passing. Whatever the defense gives us, we'll take it."
The win gave ULM a 1-0 start in the Sun Belt Conference and its first victory over the Cajuns since 2013.
"We needed a win," ULM head coach Matt Viator said. "I wish we could learn to put games away, but we needed to win a football game. We got it done and that's all I'm concerned about."
ULM (1-2) squandered a 21-point fourth-quarter lead, but Derrick Gore finally put the finishing touch on the contest with an 8-yard scoring burst for the final margin.
"I saw a crease on the left side between the guard and tackle, so I put my head down and squeezed into the hole and the end zone," Gore said.
Said Viator: "We hung on. Give (the Cajuns) credit. They came back and our kids kept hanging in there too. What a great football game."
Evans, who started and went the distance, orchestrated an offensive attack that amassed 593 yards on 79 plays. He broke out in a big way with 129 rushing yards on 16 attempts while completing 28-of-34 passes for 343 yards and another score.
"My confidence is always up, especially because I have such good players around me," Evans said. "All those great players make it easy because they'll make plays for me. I know if I don't make a play, they will."
Incredibly, it almost wasn't enough.
ULM seemed to take a commanding lead at 43-22 as Evans scored his fifth touchdown in the fourth quarter with 9:35 to go in regulation.
A 1-yard score by Trey Ragas kept the game interesting at 43-29 with 7:03 remaining.
After a defensive stop and 25-yard punt return, the Cajuns took over with 5:07 remaining at ULM's 37. Scoring quickly on a 12-yard touchdown pass to Jarrod Jackson, the Cajuns sliced the deficit to 43-36.
Clinging to a seven-point lead with 2:02 left in the game, ULM faced fourth-and-inches at the ULM 44. After sending the offense out, ULM called timeout and elected to punt. Harrison Heim kicked it 40 yards to the Cajuns 16 with 1:56 showing on the clock.
The Cajuns mounted a fast-break drive that reached the ULM 14. Under heavy pressure, Cajuns quarterback Andre Nunez found Ja'Marcus Bradley in the back of the end zone as time expired and Calvin Linden's PAT tied the score at 43-43.
ULM had first possession in overtime and reclaimed their edge, as Evans fired a 15-yard touchdown to receiver R.J. Turner.
The Cajuns converted on fourth-and-7 to keep their first overtime series alive, and Nunez scored on a quarterback keeper from 6 yards out for a 50-50 deadlock.
Linden missed a 39-yard field goal on UL Lafayette's second-overtime series, setting up ULM's game-winning possession.
"It was a long, hard-fought game," Green said. "I just kept telling my guys to keep your foot on the gas the whole game. It came down to the very last play of the game."
ULM's offense looked crisp and creative while building a 23-13 halftime advantage. Through two quarters, Evans passed for 154 yards, ran five times for 77 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns.
"(Evans) is very aggressive in the huddle," Green said. "Whatever coach tells him to do, he has the freedom to make checks and audible at the line. He gives that confidence to us and keeps us held high."
The Warhawks navigated 89 yards on 10 plays on their second series, highlighted by a 33-yard run by Markus McCray on a nifty reverse. Evans weaved his way 7 yards for a 7-0 lead.
ULM's defense rattled ULL starting quarterback Jordan Davis early and forced him out of the contest. A 40-yard punt to the ULM 1 by Heim set up a safety by the Warhawks. Nick Ingram swooped in on a blitz, hammered Davis and knocked the ball loose. The Cajuns recovered in the end zone, giving ULM a 9-0 lead in the opening quarter.
ULM took off after the free kick, as Evans delivered a strong 38-yard touchdown run for a 16-0 edge early in the second period.
The Cajuns rode running back Elijah Mitchell to get back into the contest in the opening quarter. Mitchell carried five times for 75 yards and scored to draw closer at 16-7.
ULM's offense responded well though, going 77 yards in 10 plays. Gore finished with a 2-yard touchdown run and a 23-7 lead.
The Ragin' Cajuns took advantage of two big ULM penalties late in the half. A roughing the punter flag and pass interference on third-and-17 set up a short Andre Nunez scoring run to set the 10-point margin at the break.
"Two critical mistakes," Viator said. "Roughing the punter and then the (pass) interference, but I didn't think it was a catchable ball. But our kids were playing hard and competing hard."
The Cajuns scored first in the third quarter, capping a 13-play, 67-yard drive with Stevie Artigue's 20-yard field goal. ULM pressured the quarterback on third down, forcing an incompletion and the field goal to shave the lead to 23-16.
The Evans and Gore tag team had a fast response. Gore ripped off a 46-yard run to the Cajuns 11 and Evans scored his third TD from 7 yards for the 30-16 score. Tight end Josh Pederson had a crushing block to break Evans free.
The Cajuns came right back down the field with their rebuttal, as Dion Ray finished a 75-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown run. Artigue missed his second PAT though, and ULM remained ahead, 30-22, through three quarters.
Green's 39-yard reception was the big play on ULM's corresponding 80-yard drive. Evans popped through for a 9-yard touchdown run, his fourth, to boost the Warhawks ahead 37-22 and set up the frantic finish.
"It's never over with ULL until it's over," ULM linebacker David Griffith said. "To come out with a road win and our first conference win is amazing. It's great to have that under our belt. Hopefully, we can build on this and get ready for next week."
Green machine: Receiver Marcus Green showed his gift for grabs with eight catches for 117 yards. Green made a highlight catch on the last play of the third quarter for 39 yards as Evans dropped a rainbow over his shoulder.
"Coach told us that if a ball is in the air, make it our ball," Green said. "When I realized he had man coverage over the top, I knew Caleb was going to go to me with the deep ball. All I had to do was catch it and make the play."
Green also came through on special teams with 78 yards on four kickoff returns.
Game on?: New ULM Athletics Director Nick Floyd joined the radio broadcast at halftime and shed light on the Florida State game cancelled by Hurricane Irma.
"The main thing I can bring forth is that game is still alive," Floyd said. "Both sides want to play it. We have a couple of things we're talking about and when we have something definitive to announce, we'll make it known at that time."
Postgame chatter: "This is a great confidence booster. We have a big home game against Coastal Carolina next week. We're ready to get back home and defend our turf." – ULM receiver Marcus Green said.
"Knowing that our offense was doing so good and they were pretty much automatic all night, we knew if we could get them to kick a field goal, our guys could score." ULM linebacker David Griffith.
Enemy lines: Cajuns quarterback Andre Nunez came off the bench and almost completed an epic comeback, as he completed 22-of-37 attempts for 287 yards and two scores while running for another touchdown.
Running back Elijah Mitchell carried 13 times for 107 yards and two touchdowns.
The Cajuns collected 526 yards total offense and ran 90 plays.
Up next: ULM returns to Malone Stadium on Sept. 30 for a first Sun Belt Conference date with Coastal Carolina (1-2).
Last year was the first of a two-year transition from NCAA FCS to FBS for Coastal Carolina football. This season, Coastal is playing football as a full member of the Sun Belt and can compete for the Sun Belt Championship. However, Coastal is not eligible to earn the Sun Belt's automatic bowl berth.
Tail feathers: David Griffith led the Warhawks on defense with 11 tackles, including a sack. ULM's defense registered five sacks. … Announced attendance was 18,318. … The closely contested series now stands at 27-25, with the Cajuns leading. ULM ended a three-game losing streak. ... Viator improved to 2-1 against UL Lafayette as a head coach.