UL versus ULM rivalry fireworks have started already
The ESPNU-televised game — UL vs. UL Monroe at Cajun Field, with a lot potentially on the line — begins at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
But the fireworks already have started.
“They don’t like us, you know, so they’re gonna come out and play hard,” Ragin’ Cajuns starting center Shane Vallot said of the 5-6 Warhawks, who need a win in their final regular-season game to become bowl-eligible. “They’re gonna try to do some crazy things to get us off our momentum.”
Like what, exactly?
“Oh, yeah, that’s what they do best,” Vallot said when asked if talking and trying to get into the Cajuns’ heads might be part of the ULM plan.
“They’re gonna try to talk, and we’ve just got to stay focused, do what we do. We can’t let them talk us out of our game. … That’s what they’re gonna try to do.”
The Cajuns seem convinced of it.
“They love to talk,” UL Jack outside linebacker/standup defensive end Kris Moncrief said Monday.
“I mean, it’s just how they are. It’s just how their defense and offense are. It’s just how they come. You want to keep a level head and play ball.”
How hard is that to do, especially against an in-state rival and especially with so much at stake?
“Oh, it’s easy,” Moncrief said.
“(UL) Coach (Billy) Napier, that’s one thing he always preaches about: We will not talk to the opponent.”
The Cajuns have bigger fish to fry, which is why they feel they must stay focused on the big prize.
A win would give UL a program-record 10th victory.
And if Troy were to knock off No. 22 Appalachian State on Friday night, a UL victory over ULM also would allow the Cajuns to host the Dec. 7 Sun Belt championship game instead of having to travel to Boone, North Carolina, to face the East Division-champion Mountaineers there for a second straight year.
So while the Cajuns may be keeping tabs on what happens Friday night, they don’t want to let that — or looking ahead to the title game — get in their way of preparing for ULM.
“I’m not really worried about it,” Vallot said of the App State-Troy game. “The only thing I’m worried about right now is beating ULM.”
“It is (hard),” Moncrief added with reference to thinking about the championship game, “but Coach Napier teaches us to keep a level head.”
The Cajuns also don’t worry about the Warhawks being motivated by what happened between the two teams last season, a wild one at Monroe.
UL beat ULM on a missed field goal to end the game, making the Cajuns Sun Belt Conference West Division champions and catapulting them into the first SBC title game, where they lost to Appalachian State.
“First of all, we don’t really care about what they think about,” defensive lineman Andre Jones said. “We’re on a mission. Y’all in our way; we’re gonna beat y’all. That’s how we look at it.”
So for the Cajuns, it’s all them — not the opponent, not what’s around the corner.
They want to extend their five-game win streak to six, and pick up where they off after beating Troy 53-3 last Saturday at Cajun Field.
“If we just go out there this week and we have our best practice, we keep the momentum from last week,” Vallot said, “I don’t think anybody can stop us.
“They (the Warhawks) are gonna try a lot of different things, but if we stay focused and stay to the plan, we’ll be fine.”
He knows it’s an important game for both programs.
“It’s just three or four hours up the road here, they’re in our division, and certainly there’s tons of relationships here,” he said. “These kids know each other, the staffs know each other, the alumni know each other. There’s a lot at stake.
“And I’m happy that it’s that way, because I think that gets the attention of our players and that’s what matters at this point.”
UL kicker Stevie Artigue on Monday was named Sun Belt Conference Special Teams Player of the Week.
The Lafayette High product also was named Louisiana Sports Writers Association Special Teams Player of the Week for a second straight week.
Artigue produced 15 points, going 6-of-6 on PATs and 3-of-3 on field goals from 49, 45 and 31 yards. With his 15 points, Artigue also tied Brian Mitchell for third place on UL’s career scoring leaders list.
Napier on Monday was not ready to publicly declare usual starting right tackle Robert Hunt, who has missed four straight games with a groin injury, in or out Saturday.
“We’re basically in the same position we have been in the past,” he said. “Robert is making progress.
“I would say he’s probably questionable for the game this week. But at some point here we’ll pull the trigger as we approach the weekend, get a little bit better idea where he’s at going forward.”
Napier gave media members no other injury updates Monday.