NEW ORLEANS -- Louisiana-Lafayette had not kicked a field goal since October, and junior place-kicker Hunter Stover had never kicked one in his college career.
Tulane has one of the best field-goal specialists in America in Cairo Santos, the Groza Award winner in 2012. But at least for one night -- with the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl on the line -- the shoe definitely was on the other foot.
Stover calmly converted a 27-yarder with 9:58 left -- giving Louisiana-Lafayette a 24-21 victory after it had bolted to a 21-0 lead only to see its huge edge vanish with touchdown runs of 1, 7 and 22 yards by Tulane running back Orleans Darkwa.
"We told (Stover) last week that he was going to get the nod," said Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth, whose team finished 9-4 for the third consecutive year, capping each season with a victory in the New Orleans Bowl.
"The thing Hunter gives you is that he's a guy who thrives in that environment. He didn't think twice and knocked it through. That's why we utilized him."
With a chance to force overtime with 13 seconds left, Santos hooked his 48-yard attempt left of the upright. Before that kick, Santos had made 61 of 77 field goal attempts in his career, including 25 in a row at one point.
But Santos' perfection suffered this season after his father died in a tragic stunt plane accident at a Brazilian air show in September.
"Last year, Cairo made them all," Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said. "This year, he missed a couple. After his tragedy, Cairo hasn't been the same. But if we had to do it again, we'd do it the same way because Cairo has been there before."
Hudspeth said the hard-fought victory was especially sweet because starting quarterback Terrance Broadway had broken his right arm on Nov. 30 -- leading to two consecutive losses to close out the regular season after eight straight victories -- and wasn't close to 100 percent.
Broadway completed 12 of 19 passes for 143 yards but was picked off twice, leading to two Tulane touchdowns.
"His injury really kept us from executing as we would like to," Hudspeth said. "We knew he wasn't 100 percent, but we felt he was ready enough to give us a chance to win. He gave us confidence."
Trailing 24-21, Tulane had one final chance with 1:35 left. Quarterback Devin Powell completed a 34-yard pass to Justyn Shackleford on a scramble play out of the end zone. Powell followed with a 27-yard strike to wide receiver Ryan Grant on a deep slant to the 34. But Santos could not convert.
The Ragin' Cajuns sprinted to a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter on the strength of touchdown runs of 27 yards by freshman running back Elijah McGuire and 15 yards by Alonzo Harris, along with an 82-yard interception return of a Nick Montana pass by cornerback Corey Trim.
The rout appeared to be on, but Johnson decided to roll the dice on a fourth-and-2 from the Green Wave 48 late in the second quarter.
Instead of dialing up a short pass to move the chains, Powell hurled one deep to wide receiver Devon Breaux, who adjusted to an underthrown pass for a 41-yard reception that set up Tulane at the Louisiana-Lafayette 11. Darkwa got Tulane on the board three plays later from 1 yard.
After intercepting Broadway, Tulane made it 21-14 on Darkwa's 7-yard run up the middle just before halftime. Darkwa tied the score at 21 with a 22-yard run late in the third quarter.
Broadway did just enough to get Louisiana-Lafayette the win. He said he was just happy to be back on the field, even though he cramped up late in the game and had to give way to backup Jalen Nixon.
"I got cleared on Monday by the team doctor," Broadway said. "I knew coach wasn't going to hold me back. It's still a blessing to come out of the game without hurting my arm again."
Hudspeth said he hopes to use this season as a springboard into 2014. The Ragin' Cajuns will have 18 returning starters, and Broadway will be back under center as a tested senior.
"We haven't even scratched the surface," Hudspeth said. "It gives you a lot of momentum heading into the offseason. Hopefully, it gets us set up for another outstanding season."
In an odd twist, Darkwa received the MVP trophy even though the Green Wave lost.
"The MVP is fine, but I wanted the win," Darkwa said. "Everybody did. That was our goal."
NOTES: The presence of the Ragin' Cajuns in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl the last three seasons enhanced the live gate at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Attendance was 54,728, the largest crowd in the New Orleans Bowl's 13-year history, 6,000 more than last season's impressive 48,828. At least 90 percent were Louisiana-Lafayette fans, even though Tulane was playing in its home stadium. ... Tulane played its final game in the Superdome and will move to a 30,000-seat on-campus outdoor stadium next season. Coach Curtis Johnson has not decided yet whether the Green Wave will play day or night games. ... The two schools are just 136 miles apart. They have 108 players from Louisiana on their rosters.