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January 12, 2011The Warhawks entered the 2010 season with high hopes that a coaching change and a young football team would mark a new beginning for football at ULM. While the 5-7, 4-4 record may not indicate improvement from the 6-6 record of 2009, the pieces for improvement are in place.
Few outside the ULM program gave first year Head Coach Todd Berry a chance. The Warhawks were having to replace several all conference performers on the defensive side of the ball and were having to rebuild their offensive line that was ravaged by graduation.
Berry started the season taking his team to Little Rock, Ark for a game against #14 Arkansas. The Warhawks were starting six players for the first time on the defensive side of the ball, despite their lack of game experience; they found themselves down 7-0 at halftime, and holding the Razorbacks to just 36 yards rushing. While the large margin at the game's finale was of no surprise, the young quarterback was under center for ULM showed a sign of things to come this season late in the fourth quarter.
Despite the return of last season's starter Trey Revell, Coach Berry and staff placed Mabank, Texas native Kolton Browning in the starting role. Browning would struggle in his first collegiate outing, but managed to complete his first pass in ULM's second possession for a modest four yard gain to senior running back Frank Goodin. Browning ended 7-17 in the game with a 25 yard pass to Luther Ambrose for a touchdown.
The Arkansas game showed that the Warhawk defense was better than expected, while showing a potential weakness in the effectiveness of moving the ball. This would begin ULM's Jekyll and Hyde season of each side of the ball sabotaging success.
In the conference opener at Arkansas State, the defense took the Jekyll role, as they allowed a season high 81 plays of Red Wolf offense in the 34-20 loss. ULM's young offense shined through though, as receiver Brent Leonard helped lead the offense with his career high night with three receptions for 67 yards and his first career score.
Coach Berry would get his first taste of victory at ULM the following week, picking up a 21-20 win over in-state rival Southeastern Louisiana. The Warhawks never trailed in total yardage, but three first half three and outs and interception in the opening half kept the contest close until the start of the fourth quarter.
Browning and redshirt freshman Tavarese Maye connected with a 47 yard pass-reception at the start of the fourth quarter to give ULM the final lead.
"I've never been around a bad win, but that's probably the ugliest win I've ever been around," Berry said after the game.
The eventual National Champion Auburn Tigers would have little trouble with ULM in the fourth game of the season, topping the Warhawks 52-3. Although the scoreboard showed a one sided affair, ten receivers ended the game with receptions, including senior Rodney Lovett getting his first touch of the season, and freshman Luke Russell getting his first career reception. The first quarter 36-yard field goal by Radi Jabour marked the first points by ULM in Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium in the past two meetings.
ULM returned home looking to break another drought against conference foe FAU. The Owls had won every prior meeting in Malone Stadium, but after freshman running back Jyruss Edwards rushed for his first career score late in the fourth quarter, the streak was snapped and Berry earned his first Sun Belt Conference victory.
Back to back trips to Nashville, Tenn. ensued for the young ULM team as they would stage from there to face WKU and Middle Tennessee in consecutive weeks.
The WKU Hilltoppers gave ULM a scare for three quarters of action, as they led 24-7 entering the fourth quarter before the Warhawk offense exploded for 28 points to escape Bowling Green, Ky with a 35-30 win. Highlighting the come from behind victory was a 55 yard interception return by sophomore Robert Nelson for a TD, sealing the second consecutive come from behind victory for the Warhawks.
ULM's trip to Murfreesboro, Tenn. was anything but thrilling, as the offensive line surrendered six sacks, the offense was held to -4 yards rushing, and the defense allowed 24 unanswered points in the 38-10 setback.
Homecoming marked a game that most had circled as a loss from the start, as the young Warhawks faced off against the defending conference champion Troy Trojans. A season high 19,980 left shocked though, as ULM had a career day in the 28-14 win.
"I've always believed in this team, I really always have," Berry said with Gatoraid still dripping from him. "I've been anxious for them to see what they can be when they play real well."
The Warhawks did play well as they out gained the visiting Trojans 428 to 285. Browning ran his streak of 200 plus yard passing performances to seven, as he ended the game with 226.
The high of having defeated Troy didn't last long though, as the Warhawks would drop two of the next three games. The first defeat was in a double-overtime thriller to eventual conference champion FIU, 42-35.
Each side in the FIU contest looked to be setup for a late game winning field goal, but an interception by junior Ken Dorsey denied the Golden Panther's regulation win, while Browning was intercepted on the other end of the field to deny the Warhawks.
Against #5 LSU, the Tigers used five Warhawk turnovers to easily win 51-0. Despite being on the wrong side of a 23-0 score at the half, ULM was ahead in stats, holding LSU to just 90 total yard of offense to 116 for the Warhawks.
In the final pair of home games, the Warhawks looked to make their first back-to-back .500 seasons and whispers of the post season were in the air. In the conference game against North Texas, Browning threw for five touchdown passes in the 49-37 win. Junior Luther Ambrose had a game-high 140 yards receiving on seven catches with a pair of touchdowns.
This set up the season finale against rival UL-Lafayette. A win would propel ULM to its first post season bowl game in history, while a Ragin Cajun win would send their recently fired head coach Rickey Bustle out on a high note.
Unfortunate for Warhawk fans the latter happened, as the Cajuns spoiled the dream season with a 23-22 upset.
ULM jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead, but led just 13-10 by halftime. The Cajuns used the entire third quarter to erase the deficit and build a 23-13 point lead as they held ULM to just 22 yards of offense on five plays from scrimmage.
Browning looked to lead his team to a tying drive, as he along with the running attack of senior Frank Goodin and Edwards and Tavarese Maye put together an eight play, 84 yard touchdown with 3:05 remaining. The PAT was blocked by Cooper Gerami for the final score.
Despite the season not turning out the way fans had hoped, the 2010 season showed signs that the pieces are in place for a successful Sun Belt Conference run in the coming seasons.