Shane Carden spotted Jabril Soloman angling across the middle deep down field and unleashed what he hoped would be a go-ahead touchdown pass. Moments later, the East Carolina quarterback wished he could have that throw back.
Louisiana-Lafayette's Jemarlous Moten undercut Soloman for an interception that preserved a slim fourth-quarter lead, and the Ragin' Cajuns held on to repeat as winners of the New Orleans Bowl, 43-34 over the Pirates on Saturday.
"It was the right read," Carden said of his interception. "I just didn't get it out there for him."
East Carolina (8-5) also had trouble containing dual threat Cajuns quarterback Terrance Broadway, named the game's most valuable player after passing for 316 yards and rushing for 108.
Alonzo Harris rushed for 120 yards, including touchdowns of 6 and 68 yards for the Ragin' Cajuns (9-4), who briefly squandered a three-touchdown lead before moving back in front for good on Broadway's 14-yard scoring pass to Javone Lawson late in the third quarter.
"Nothing fazes our team," said Broadway, who also ran for a 12-yard score. "Everybody on our team responds to adversity well. So when they came back on us and made a game out of it, our team is still upbeat and saying we're going to win this game."
And they did, with Brett Baer adding his second and third field goals in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
Carden passed for 278 yards and two touchdowns, but was also plagued by a couple of receiver drops on long passes.
"They did a good job of changing, I guess, the coverage throughout the game," Carden said of ULL. "But I think our offense could execute a lot better. It was nothing really they were doing. It was a lot of us just not executing routine plays."
The Pirates' Reggie Bullock rushed for 104 yards and two touchdowns.
"The game plan was fine. We just needed the execution of the calls. We've always played hard. That was not a problem," East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill said. "We had a chance there late in the game. ... I was proud of our guys."
Carden's touchdowns went to Justin Hardy for 19 yards and Danny Webster for 16 yards. Hardy finished with five catches for 59 yards. East Carolina's Andrew Bodenheimer had five catches for a team-high 65 yards, but could not secure a crucial fourth-down pass in the final minutes as defensive back T.J. Worthy ripped the ball away in ECU territory. That allowed the Cajuns to run the clock down to 15 seconds before setting up Baer's final field goal from 40-yards out.
Jamal Robinson had six catches for 116 yards for ULL, including a 39-yarder that was Broadway's longest completion. Lawson finished with four catches for 71 yards.
The Cajuns carried a 37-31 lead into the fourth quarter after Lawson juggled but secured the ball for a sprawling, rolling TD catch. The point-after kick failed, however, and East Carolina made it 37-34 on Warren Harvey's 26-yard field goal.
Broadway's interception on a tipped pass gave East Carolina the ball on the Cajuns 39, but Moten stepped in front of Carden's long pass over the middle to help preserve the slim lead.
Red-clad Ragin' Cajuns fans made up the bulk of a record New Orleans Bowl crowd of 48,828, and they were celebrating early.
Broadway's scoring run, his ninth rushing TD of the season, gave ULL a 7-0 lead and Harry Peoples' 10-yard scoring made it 14-0.
ECU didn't get a first down until early in the second quarter, when Carden converted on third-and-long with Solomon for a 45-yard gain. That set up Bullock's first touchdown from 5 yards out to make it 14-7.
Harris' two scores had the Cajuns seemingly in command at 28-7, but ECU responded with two touchdowns in a span of 13 seconds to make it a one-score game.
First came Hardy's leaping, outstretched grab in the back of the end zone. Then Darryl Surgent fumbled a kickoff return, giving ECU the ball on the Cajuns 16. Carden found Webster over the middle for a score on the next play.
Louisiana-Lafayette was able to regain some momentum in the final 37 seconds of the first half, driving 47 yards on five plays to set up Baer's 50-yard field goal, which was the same distance and direction as his game-winner at the end of last year's New Orleans Bowl.
The Pirates tied it in the third quarter on Harvey's 45-yard field goal and Bullock's 13-yard scoring run, capping a drive that included a converted fourth-and-3.