SAN MARCOS, Texas – The ULM football team caught a charter flight this weekend and avoided the grueling bus ride to face Texas State.
The Warhawks (3-2) remained airborne on Saturday too as quarterback Caleb Evans passed for a career-high 433 yards and three touchdowns in a 45-27 victory over Texas State at Bobcat Stadium.
"Everybody has bought in," wide receiver R.J. Turner said. "We trust our coaches and we work hard, we really do. It's starting to pay off. Everyone sees it and everyone is on board. The sky is the limit."
The surging Warhawks soared to 3-0 in Sun Belt play for the first time since 2012 and stay perched atop the standings heading into Homecoming next week.
"We're getting more comfortable with each other and more confident in each another," Evans said. "It's only up from here."
Evans directed a ULM aerial assault that produced 10 pass plays of more than 15 yards, including a 67-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Green. Evans completed 24-of-37 passes without an interception and also ran for a touchdown.
"Big plays are intense," Turner said. "They get you going. It excites everybody. It makes the next guy ready to make a big play."
Green caught four passes for 100 yards, Turner made five catches for 99 yards and a touchdown and Brian Williams had eight receptions for 96 yards and a score.
"They put us in positions to do what we're supposed to do," Turner said. "If the ball's not coming your way, you can still make a block. You can still make a play. You can make a play without the ball. Everybody has a role and everybody is important. What it takes to win is for everybody to do their role."
ULM's offense piled up 589 total yards in claiming its second road conference win.
After giving up 20 points and 246 yards in the first quarter, ULM's defense settled in and allowed just one more score. The Warhawks gave up 386 total yards, limited Texas State to 3-of-13 on third-down conversions and recovered a fumble that led to six points in the third quarter.
"They did a couple of things to us early," ULM assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Mike Collins said. "We knew it would be something but we weren't sure what. It took us a minute or two to get adjusted. But at the same time, it's about doing your job and staying locked in on what your job is."
The Bobcats (1-5, 0-2) managed just 140 yards over the final three quarters and 71 in the second half, with 16 yards through the air.
"It's like I told them, at the end of the day, we got another win," Collins said. "But we've got to do our deal from the start. I think we can be a pretty good defense if we just get it done from the start."
ULM opened the game with a statement drive, moving 75 yards in seven plays primarily through the air. Evans, who completed 4-of-5 attempts for 69 yards, connected on a 29-yard pass to Turner before finding Williams in the end zone for a quick 7-0 ULM lead. Williams made an excellent catch as he hauled in the 20-yard toss with an outstretched left hand.
On their first offensive try, the Bobcats came right back to score on a 77-yard drive capped by quarterback Damian Williams' 1-yard run. However, ULM's Caleb Tucker intercepted the 2-point pass attempt in the end zone and returned it more than 100 yards the other way for a 9-6 ULM lead.
Continuing to show deft touch on deep balls, Evans tossed a 64-yard rainbow to Xavier Brown, who was down at the 1. Ben Luckett, who finished with 67 yards on 17 carries, bulled in a play later to increase ULM's lead to 16-6 with 9:44 to go in the first quarter.
Keeping pace, Texas State came back 86 yards in seven plays, with Williams hitting Tyler Watts racing down the sideline for a 25-yard touchdown pass. ULM still led 16-13.
Craig Ford booted a 23-yard field goal with 3:16 remaining in the opening period. ULM receiver D'Marius Gillespie made a leaping grab for 35 yards to keep the march underway, leading to the 19-13 advantage.
Texas State came up big on a halfback pass with 29 seconds left in the first period to take a 20-19 lead over ULM. Hutch White found Anthony Taylor for a 47-yard scoring pass.
In the second quarter, Turner caught a ball from Evans and stiff-armed the defender on his way to ULM's go-ahead touchdown. Turner's 34-yard reception put ULM back on top 26-20 with 9:25 left in the half.
"That stiff arm is undefeated," Turner said with a laugh.
The Warhawks took their six-point lead into the break, as the defense found its footing in the second quarter. Texas State managed just 69 yards in the period and punted twice.
"We were moving the ball and we finally got some stops in the second quarter," ULM head coach Matt Viator said.
Evans posted a productive first half as he completed 14-of-22 passes for 270 yards and two touchdowns.
The ULM defense provided a pivotal takeaway with 8:12 left in the third quarter, as Starks raked the ball loose from Williams and safety Wesley Thompson recovered a Texas State fumble at the Bobcats' 13.
"He tried to go quarterback sneak for 1 yard," Starks said. "We all stepped up."
Evans helped ULM capitalize two plays later as he weaved 10 yards on a quarterback draw for a touchdown. The Warhawks misfired on a 2-point conversion but extended their lead to 32-20.
Also in the third quarter, Green's 29-yard punt return to the Texas State 32 set up another scoring opportunity for the Warhawks. Ford's 35-yard field goal boosted ULM's lead to 35-20 with 1:33 remaining in the period.
"(The fumble recovery) was a big play in the game and so was the punt return," Viator said. "I thought it turned our fortunes a little bit there."
Texas State started a 65-yard scoring drive late in the third quarter and got back on the scoreboard as Williams ran up the middle for a 3-yard touchdown. The Bobcats were aided by a ULM pass interference call on third-and 9 that kept the drive alive and narrowed the gap to 35-27.
Green joined the big-play fray as he made the catch on a short seam route, spun away from a pair of defenders and motored 67 yards for a touchdown as ULM surged back up 42-27 with 13:48 left in the game.
The Warhawks put the finishing touch on their road win with a 14-play, 71-yard drive that chewed 6:30 off the clock. Ford tacked on a 20-yard field goal with 4:59 to go.
"Overall, a team win," Viator said. "We made a couple of plays on defense, we made a couple of plays on special teams and the offense made plays."
First quarter fireworks: The first quarter was fast and furious from the start as Texas State took a 20-19 lead. Both teams scored on each of their first three offensive possessions and collected a total of 17 first downs.
The teams combined for 473 yards of total offense, with 362 through the air. ULM had four plays of more than 20 yards and tallied 227 yards on 20 plays.
Postgame chatter: "We don't worry about the record. The next week we want to try to go 1-0. We don't worry about the record right now because we know we're on top. Next week, we're focusing on being 1-0." – ULM defensive end Kerry Starks on being in first place.
"It's college football. There are a lot of ups and downs and back and forth. We had each other's back. If we go three-and-out, we trust them to get a stop. If they give up a score, they trust us to get a score." – ULM receiver R.J. Turner on the wild opening quarter.
Enemy lines: Texas State quarterback Damian Williams is a Louisiana native, who played at Rummel High School. Williams, a transfer from Mississippi State, hit 13-of-24 passes for 158 yards and one touchdown while running for two scores.
Up next: ULM returns to Malone Stadium for Homecoming on Oct. 14. Georgia State will be ULM's Sun Belt Conference opponent. Note: kickoff is set for 4 p.m. Georgia State visited Coastal Carolina on Saturday night.
Tail feathers: Green recorded his second 100-yard receiving game of the season and fourth of his career. ... Evans topped 200 yards for the third time in his career. … 10 different ULM players caught passes in the game. … Starks had a sack in the second quarter. He finished with four tackles, two tackles for losses and one quarterback hurry…ULM game captains were cornerback JJ Dallas, snapper Luke Hutchinson, quarterback Garrett Smith and kicker Matt Wylie. … ULM broke out its "Super Hawk" helmet decal for the road test. … ULM improved to 10-4 in the series vs. Texas State.