Playing in their first bowl game as a Division I FBS team, the Ragin Cajuns (9-4) led most of the way but fell behind 30-29 when Aztecs quarterback Ryan Lindley connected with Colin Lockett on a 12-yard touchdown strike with 35 seconds to go.
Louisiana-Lafayette was able to drive to the Aztecs 38 to set up what was initially a 55-yard attempt, but a pre-snap penalty on SDSU (8-5) moved the winning kick 5 yards closer.
Cajuns quarterback Blaine Gautier passed for 470 yards and three touchdowns. He finished with 2,958 yards passing and 23 TDs on the season, breaking Jake Delhomme’s single-season school records.
Delhomme held those records since 1996, when he passed for 2,901 yards and 20 TDs.
Gautier threw two of his touchdown passes to Javone Lawson, from 18 and 11 yards out, and had a 20-yard scoring strike to Ladarius Green.
Darryl Surgent returned a punt 87 yards for a score, slicing through SDSU’s punt coverage with a quick cut to his right and a sprint back to the left.
The Ragin’ Cajuns had not appeared in a bowl of any kind since playing in the Grantland Rice Bowl 41 years ago.
They weren’t expected to contend for a bowl bid this season, either, but earned one with a surprisingly quick turnaround under first-year coach Mark Hudspeth.
Thousands of red-clad, bowl-starved fans followed the Ragin’ Cajuns to New Orleans, a drive of just more than two hours east from Lafayette, turning the Superdome into a de facto home field. They also helped set a New Orleans Bowl attendance record of 42,841.
Lawson, who grew up in suburban New Orleans, made nine catches for 193 yards, including a 52-yard catch and run that set up Green’s TD. Green caught five passes for 121 yards.
Ryan Lindley was 28 of 49 for 413 yards. He found Colin Lockett for a pair of 16-yard scoring passes in the third quarter, when the Aztecs trimmed a 19-3 deficit to 19-17. Lockett’s second TD capped a seven-play, 99-yard drive that was helped by a pass interference penalty that wipe out an interception.
The Ragin’ Cajuns responded with a 14-play, 78-yard drive that included three third-down conversions and finished with Lawson’s second touchdown catch.
Adam Muema’s 5-yard touchdown run up the middle pulled SDSU back to 26-24 with 5:40 left, then Baer’s 22-yard field goal set up the wild finish.