College football: ULM gets first conference win

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Paul Letlow
ULMWarhawks.com Online Columnist

CONWAY, S.C. – ULM got back into the win column and back on track in the Sun Belt Conference Saturday with a rejuvenating 45-20 win over Coastal Carolina.

“We needed to play good,” ULM coach Matt Viator said. “To win the game and win it the way we did, with our defense making some huge stops and our offense really stepping up toward the end of the game too. It was an all-around good win when you look at what we did on offense, defense and special teams.

“We needed to play good. That was the first order of business. We wanted to get back to playing the way that we can play.”

On the bright teal turf of Brooks Stadium, Marcus Green caught five passes for 111 yards, Derrick Gore rushed for a career-high 147 yards on 16 attempts and ULM’s defense recorded five sacks to go along with three takeaways.

“Everybody has been working hard this week to get back,” said ULM linebacker David Griffith, who made eight tackles including 1.5 sacks. “We knew this was a big game for us, and we knew we could do it. Everybody was super encouraging this week. Offense, defense, everybody came to practice ready to work.”

Said Green: “Hopefully, we can get this thing rolling and start a snowball effect from here.”

The Warhawks (3-4, 1-2 Sun Belt) never trailed in the contest. Bucking a trend of slow starts that contributed to ULM’s four-game losing streak, the Warhawks enjoyed a winning beginning.

“It was huge, no question,” Viator said. “We had a lot of energy before the game. It was big to come out and get a touchdown and then get a stop and then get another touchdown.”

The reenergized Warhawks jumped ahead 7-0 by opening the contest with a six-play, 75 scoring drive. Austin “Bus” Vaughn powered in for the 4-yard touchdown run.

“We established the run early and that’s going to help our offense down the road,” Gore said.

Marcus Hubbard recovered a fumble at the CCU 42 to set up another early ULM touchdown. Four plays after the takeaway, Gore ran for a 10-yard touchdown and the Warhawks led 14-0 with 8:35 to go in the first quarter.

“I’m just really proud of our players of coming out strong and really taking it to them early in the game,” Viator said. “It’s been a tough couple of weeks before and I’m just really proud of them.”

Coastal’s first scoring drive ended with a Massimo Biscardi 29-yard field goal. ULM defended the red zone well though, as Cortez Sisco Jr. broke up a third-and-goal pass attempt from the 11.

Early in the second quarter, the Chanticleers gambled and picked up 33 yards on a fake punt, then found the end zone six plays later. Malcom Williams scored on a sweep from the 4 and narrowed ULM’s lead to 14-10 with 9:10 left in the first half.

ULM’s offensive response was swift. Evans hit Green with a 37-yard touchdown pass on third-and-5 and the Warhawks lead expanded to 21-10. The four-play drive covered 75 yards in 1:32.

The Warhawks slowed it down on their next drive, going 52 yards in 10 plays and keeping the ball for 5:17. Tight end Josh Pederson narrowly missed scoring on a 3-yard reception as he stepped out of bounds, but Craig Ford’s 20-yard field goal extended the lead to 24-10 with 50 seconds left before halftime.

That was enough time for the Chanticleers, who hustled down 57 yards in seven plays to kick a 40-yard field goal with two seconds to go and trailed 24-13 at the break.

The Warhawks weathered adversity early in the second half as Coastal converted a ULM turnover into points in the third quarter. Taking over after a fumbled handoff exchange by Green at the CCU 34, the Chanticleers moved 66 yards in six plays. Marcus Outlow finished the drive with a 6-yard touchdown rush and ULM’s lead was down to 24-20.

“I thought we should have scored a touchdown late in the first half and then we fumbled the football, but we continued to play,” Viator said. “A bunch of people made plays.”

Green redeemed himself on the next series with a contested 33-yard catch to the CCU 7 that set up a ULM score on a 1-yard touchdown run by Evans. The Warhawks led 31-20 with 3:45 to go in the third.

“Coach always tells us to lick our finger and turn the page, it’s a new play,” Green said. “I knew what happened on the exchange, and we came to the sideline and corrected it. The next series, it was out of sight, out of mind. We came back and made a big play the next drive.”

With Coastal threatening to score in the fourth quarter, ULM freshman Jabari Johnson made a crucial interception off Bryce Carpenter in the end zone with 8:12 remaining in the game. The pick was the first of his career for Johnson, a product of Ouachita Parish High School.

The Warhawks parlayed the takeaway into a touchdown, moving 80 yards in eight plays. Evans hit Markis McCray on a 35-yard reception along the way, then capped the march with a 20-yard touchdown run for a 38-20 lead at the 4:07 mark.

ULM sealed the victory in style. After Sam Miller recovered a fumble at the ULM 47, Gore two plays later blasted 47 yards for a touchdown.

“He made some really good runs,” Viator said. “It was good to see him finish the game strong; just the way he started it.”

Enemy lines: Coastal Carolina fell to 3-3, 1-2 in the Sun Belt. Bryce Carpenter stepped in as the starting quarterback and completed 9-of-19 passes for 133 yards and was sacked five times. Outlow led the ground game with 104 yards on 15 carries.

“That’s a good football team over there in Coastal,” Viator said. “What they do is really hard to defend. I give Coach (Mike) Collins, our defensive coaches and our kids a lot of credit. It’s tough stuff trying to defend that option in a short week.”

ULM returns to Malone Stadium on Oct. 20 for a Homecoming date with Texas State (1-5, 0-3 Sun Belt). The Bobcats lost to Georgia Southern, 15-13, on Oct. 11.