MONROE, La. – The Matt Viator Era at ULM opened with a resounding win on Saturday night as the Warhawks turned a two-point halftime advantage into a 38-21 final score over Southern in front of nearly 25,000 fans inside JPS Field at Malone Stadium.
The Warhawks were the only FBS level Louisiana school to win on Saturday, while ULM has now won its last two season openers at home (tonight and August 2014 against Wake Forest). Viator also improves to a personal 10-0 as a head coach in season openers with the win.
FINAL SCORE: ULM 38 – Southern 21
LOCATION: JPS Field at Malone Stadium
RECORDS: ULM (1-0), Southern (0-1)
-ULM come out and scored on its first two possessions of the second half, turning what had been a 14-12 halftime lead into a 24-12 advantage after a six-play, 44 yard drive capped by a Garrett Smith 28-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Green and a Craig Ford 24-yard field goal.
HOW IT HAPPENED
-Smith hurt Southern through the air and the ground Saturday night, finishing with 208 yards passing and a pair of touchdowns while also leading the Warhawks on the ground with a 150-yard running night and a touchdown. He finished 20-for-33 in the air, with two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions.
-He becomes the first Warhawk to rush for 150 yards since Jyruss Edwards racked up 191 yards against Middle Tennessee (Nov 12, 2011). Smith also became the first ULM quarterback to toss around 200+ yards in the air since Pete Thomas’ 307 yards passing at Georgia Southern (Nov. 29, 2014).
-As a team, ULM amassed 533 offensive yards, balanced with 325 total yards on the ground and Smith’s 208 yards passing.
-After Southern took the opening kickoff down the field before settling on a field goal, ULM took the lead for good with its first offensive possession of the night – a methodical, 11-play, 65 yard drive capped by Smith’s touchdown pass to Jared Mapps from 13 yards out halfway through the opening quarter.
-Ben Luckett (18 rushes, 110 yards) broke free for a 30-yard touchdown run with 3:16 remaining in the first half to extend the lead to 14-3.
-Southern responded to the Luckett TD with a 75 yard drive that resulted in its first touchdown of the game with 14 seconds remaining in the first half. The point after attempt was no good.
-Kicker Ruan Albuquerque booted a 38-yard field goal for Southern in the final minute of the first half to pull the visitors within two points at 14-12, but ULM would go on to outscore Southern 24-9 in the second half.
-Smith scored with his arm and his feet in the second half, leading the Warhawks on an early second half drive that resulted in his second passing touchdown of the night (a 28-yarder to Marcus Green) before a scrambling 13-yard TD run in the opening minute of the fourth quarter effectively wrapped things up.
-Austin Vaughn capped the night with a six-yard touchdown run in the night’s final minute, putting the bow on the 57-yard rushing night for the walk on.
BEYOND THE BOXSCORE
-Viator is now 7-3 in season openers all-time in addition to his 10-0 mark in home openers going back to his time at McNeese State.
-The Warhawks finished the night with six different players recording at least one rush, while seven players caught passes.
-ULM tabbed an 11-17 mark in third down completions Saturday and was 1-for-1 in its fourth down attempt. The Warhawks cashed in on four of five redzone trips, with the only miscue coming in the opening second half possession when Smith was picked off at the goal line.
-Three punts by Dayton Balvanz were downed inside the 20 for the Warhawks, while he registered a 46 yard kick. Craig Ford connected on his only field goal, a 24 yarder late in the third quarter, and was 5-for-5 in PATs.
-ULM was flagged for seven penalties for 73 total yards, however five of the seven (for a total of 60 yards) came in the first half.
-The Warhawks were the only FBS school in Louisiana to win on the opening weekend of the season, with LSU, Louisiana Tech, UL Lafayette and Tulane all losing this weekend.
-A crowd of 24,718 fans took in Saturday night’s opener at JPS Field at Malone Stadium. The crowd is the sixth-largest attendance since the stadium’s opening in 1978.
FOR THE FOES
-Lenard Tillery tallied 26 rushes for 161 yards to pace the Southern rushing attack, which combined for 239 yards among seven players.
-Austin Howard finished the night 17-for-31 passing with 137 yards passing, a touchdown and an interception.
-Kick returner Willie Quinn collected 141 yards over four kickoffs.
QUOTABLES FROM HEAD COACH MATT VIATOR
On Southern: “Give them credit. I thought they did some really good things. I was really impressed with the quarterback and thought he handled things well. Tillery is a really good player and Quinn is special.”
On the game: “The main thing I was disappointed with was how undisciplined we were in the first half. That’s something we are going to have to improve on. Offensively, we made some mistakes, and defensively, once we settled in and tackled, we played better as the game went on. It’s a good first game and a good start. I think this team is only going to get better. We just have to keep working at it and clean up some things. All in all, really pleased with the effort of our players. It was a great atmosphere to play in and glad to get the win.”
The Warhawks will now set their sights on week two of the young season and a date with Oklahoma next Saturday in Norman. The Sooners, who were ranked third entering the day, were beaten by No. 15 Houston by a score of 33-23.