Cheap shot, spit, field storming: UL and Arkansas State have raucous rivalry

Tim Buckley
The Daily Advertiser

JONESBORO, Ark. — It is a football rivalry many feel is UL’s biggest; 2014 may be one reason, 2016 another.

UL vs. Arkansas State.

The Ragin' Cajuns celebrate their raucous 2016 win over Arkansas State.

Mark Hudspeth, whose team has won three of the last four meetings between the two, doesn’t necessarily believe the Red Wolves are his Ragin’ Cajuns’ chief rival.

In fact, when asked late last season which opponent he thought was — just after playing Arkansas State but before meeting UL Monroe, in all fairness — the Cajuns coach went with ULM because the Warhawks are an “in-state opponent.”

At the time, he mentioned Arkansas State and Tulane as “people we like competing against also.”

But now it’s Arkansas State week all over again for the Cajuns, and Hudspeth — while not picking one over the other — thinks he knows why UL’s series with the Red Wolves is so intense.

When his team plays Arkansas State, he suggested, everything seems ratcheted.

“It’s always been a pretty heated rivalry game, because it’s always had some implications,” said Hudspeth, whose 3-3 Cajuns visit the 3-2 Red Wolves on Thursday night here. “It’s always been a close game, an exciting game.”

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Almost always close.

(One year, in 2012, Arkansas State won by 23.)

But exciting, yes.

Chippy at times too.

Raucous, really.

Let's relive last season’s 24-19 Cajun win. An excerpt from that recap reads:

“On fourth-and-10 from the 11-yard line Saturday, Arkansas State quarterback Justice Hansen was hauled down by UL’s Mario Osborne shy of a first down.

“Hansen lateraled to an offensive lineman who scooped the ball up on two bounces and took it into the end zone.

“After a brief delay, the play was called a touchdown.

“Arkansas State players celebrated wildly, at least one of them throwing his helmet in the air and others running across the field before police directed them away from UL’s sideline.

“Upon further review, it was ruled Hansen’s knee was down prior to the lateral. The TD was erased. Cajun players then celebrated wildly, some in the direction of the Red Wolves’ sideline.

“But two seconds remained, and the sides had to be separated before one last snap by UL’s offense.”

That was 2016.

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In 2014, there was this alleged cheap shot:

“A Red Wolves player purportedly dove at then-UL offensive lineman Mykhael Quave’s knees late in that game.”

(The two sides had to be separated that time too.)

“Afterward, the Sun Belt publicly reprimanded nine persons — including Arkansas State players, and UL players and coaches.”

One of the reprimanded Arkansas State players was accused of spitting, and even the game’s officiating crew was suspended by the Sun Belt for losing control.

Hudspeth called Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson after that 2016 game to apologize for the behavior of his players.

Said Hudspeth then:

“He had called me (in ’14), sort of to apologize. I just called him and said, ‘Wanted to tell you sorry we stormed the field.’

“They sort of stormed the field first, too. … But I wanted to tell him also, ‘Great job’ of managing his side, because we had gotten both sides back, and just agreed that, ‘Let whoever wants shake hands, but let’s just send ’em on up (to the locker room). Hard-fought game. Very spirited game all day long. Really clean all day long between the whistles, and let’s don’t let it get out of hand.’”

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The two later quibbled over whether Hudspeth also said he was embarrassed, something Anderson reportedly suggested but Hudspeth vehemently denied.

“Not embarrassed,” he said at the time. “I told him I hated we took the field as fast as we did before the game was over, and told him ‘We were excited to win the football game. It had been a long, tough season.’

“But not embarrassed. Just disappointed we didn’t get ’em back any sooner.”

This week, Hudspeth — when asked about the 2014 incident with Quave — suggested bygones are bygones.

“I think that’s sort of removed,” he said.

“I think it’s a healthy respect for both teams from both sides. A lot of guys in that (UL) locker room (now) weren’t even on the field for that game. Probably a few of them were, but not many.”

One current Cajun not around in 2014 said he’s seen the Quave incident on videotape.

Asked this week if his teammates still talk about it, he acknowledged they did, saying, “Yeah, sort of, kind of.”

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“It’s very big around here — I would say, probably, like, the game of the year for us every year,” tight end Raynard Ford said. “Every year is just a dogfight.”

“The intensity level is very high. … You can just feel the environment is different,” added free safety Corey Turner, who does believe Arkansas State is UL’s biggest rival.

The history factor in a series UL leads 23-20-1 perhaps plays a part too.

Unlike all but one other current full-fledged Sun Belt Conference member, UL Monroe, UL and Arkansas State both have been in the league since it started sponsoring football in 2001.

Back then, the SBC had seven football playing members, including North Texas and Middle Tennessee, both now in Conference USA, and New Mexico State and Idaho, both current Sun Belt football-only members that are leaving the league after this season.

But unlike ULM, which finished in a three-way tie with UL and Arkansas State for the Sun Belt championship in 2005 but otherwise has never won a conference championship, the Red Wolves often find themselves fighting for first.

UL, meanwhile, finished third or better from 2011-14 — not counting NCAA penalties each of those years.

Just since Hudspeth arrived at UL, Arkansas State won it all in 2011 and 2012, shared the championship with UL in 2013 (although the Cajuns later had to vacate due to NCAA sanctions), won it all again in 2015 and shared it with Appalachian State last year.

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A midseason UL loss to Arkansas State cost the Cajuns a share in 2012.

Had Arkansas State beat UL in 2013, the Red Wolves would have won it outright prior to UL’s recruiting-related NCAA issues.

And if Arkansas State had beaten UL in 2016, rather than losing and ruining what could have been a nine-game losing streak to end the season, the Red Wolves would have won outright last season too.

“The Arkansas State game is always a very emotional game for our players, always a big game for our players,” Hudspeth said.

“I think maybe one of the reasons is … in the past there was always something riding on it.”

Or at least that’s often been the case.

“It’s always seemed to be the big game of the year for us in the fact that both teams were pretty high up in the conference standings ‘at the moment,’ ” Hudspeth said.

There are even more factors beyond that.

The game is frequently televised by an ESPN network, and that will be the case again this season with the meeting being aired by ESPNU.

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Then there are the fans.

Although separated by 500 miles, making it difficult for supporters of both sides to travel from one locale to the other, especially for midweek games, the passion is pure.

“These fans and these teams have been going against each other for a long time,” Hudspeth said. “Longer than some other teams … that might be new to the conference.

“That probably leads a little bit to it also.”


Though probably not as much as a cheap shot taken, some spitting, a field stormed and championships impacted.

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