ULMWarhawks.com Online Columnist
MONROE — ULM made it a happy homecoming at Malone Stadium Saturday night with a 20-14 win over Texas State.
Playing their first game at JPS Field since Sept. 22, the Warhawks evened their record at 4-4 and 2-2 in the Sun Belt with a rock-solid defensive effort.
ULM held the Bobcats (1-6, 0-4) to 242 total yards, forced eight punts, had 10 tackles for losses including three sacks, and limited the visitors to just 2-of-13 on third-down conversions.
“It’s always fun to get the win,” ULM linebacker Cortez Sisco Jr. said. “As a defense, we had to help the offense out because they were struggling a little bit. But that’s what comes with the game of football.”
The 14 points allowed were the fewest allowed by ULM under head coach Matt Viator, who was beaming over the unit’s resurgence.
“Our defense, that’s the story for tonight,” Viator said. “You have to win games like this. This is the second one really that we won like this if you count Southern Miss. I can’t say enough about that. That’s huge.”
ULM’s 2-2 Sun Belt mark is also good enough to put them in first place in the West Division, heading into an open date.
“Our goal is to win the Sun Belt Conference Championship and get to a bowl game,” Sisco said. “For us to have the start we did this season and turn things around and be sitting in first place in the division, that’s big time for real.”
“Defense wins games, championships, all that,” ULM nose tackle Larance Shaw said. “A win is a win, and we’re on top of the West Division.”
For defensive coordinator Mike Collins, the performance was all about resilience.
“When you go through what we went through earlier in the year, we played really good in a couple of games early and then played really bad,” Collins said. “I think the players took it to heart and worked really hard to make sure we weren’t the cause of us not being successful.”
While the ULM offense didn’t deliver a high-octane performance, the Warhawks churned out enough production for the win. ULM tallied 353 yards with 229 coming on the ground.
“Not a great offensive game, but the defense stepped up big tonight,” ULM’s Marcus Green said. “We made clutch plays when we needed them, but you can’t argue with a win.”
“It reminded me of a game earlier this year against Southern Miss,” Viator said. “We were off and never really got anything going throwing the ball.”
The Warhawks did pick up three first downs on the final series to close out the win, including a Caleb Evans 12-yard pass to Green, a clutch 18-yard run by Evans and an offside penalty against Texas State on a fourth-down bluff that saw offensive guard T.J. Fiailoa bowled over.
“Everybody has to keep doing their job for us to move the ball,” Fiailoa said. “We knew we had to do our jobs, be consistent and that’s what got us the first downs and won the game.”
A ULM turnover set up Texas State’s first score in the opening quarter. Markis McCray fumbled after a short reception and Texas State’s Ishmael Davis recovered at the ULM 21. Three plays later, the Bobcats led 7-0 on a 7-yard touchdown run by quarterback Tyler Vitt.
“Give Texas State a lot of credit,” Viator said. “I thought their kids played hard. I knew they were good on defense.”
After a sluggish offensive start, the Warhawks bounced back on their next series. Green ignited the offense with a 60-yard run to the Bobcats’ 12, and two plays later, Austin Vaughn punched in a 2-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7 with 6:47 left in the first period.
Craig Ford gave ULM its first lead at 10-7 with a season-long 43-yard field goal with 11:10 remaining in the second quarter. The Warhawks moved 37 yards in nine plays to set up the kick.
Sophomore Brandius Batiste caught his first career touchdown pass on a 27-yard strike from Evans with 4:41 showing in the first half. The scoring toss capped a 10-play, 84-yard drive and gave ULM a 17-7 lead that carried into intermission.
Viator was looking for more consistency on offense in the second half. The Warhawks generated 213 yards with 13 first downs in the first half but were also just 9-of-18 passing for 86 yards and 3-of-7 on third-down conversions.
The Warhawks didn’t exactly catch fire in the third period although they did extend the lead to 20-7 on a 30-yard field goal by Ford. ULM moved 61 yards on 13 plays for the score.
Meanwhile Warhawks’ defense continued to stand strong. Texas State’s drive to the ULM 13 early in the fourth quarter ended with a missed 30-yard field goal by Chandler Stewart.
Offensive miscues carried over into the second half for ULM, as Vaughn lost a fumble at the Warhawks’ 46 with 11:14 left in the game. The Bobcats needed eight plays to convert their takeaway to points and pulled within 20-13 with 7:18 remaining on a 4-yard touchdown run by Robert Brown Jr.
The Warhawks on offense pulled things together at the end though to put the finishing touch on Texas State.
“We hung in there and made some plays right at the end of the game,” Viator said. “Getting the three first downs at the end was big to end the game. That was a plus.”
ULM catches an open date before playing host to Georgia Southern on Nov. 3. Kickoff for the home game is 2 p.m.