By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Ed Orgeron had a decision to make.
Trailing Auburn 23-21 in the final minutes at Tiger Stadium, the LSU coach called timeout ahead of a fourth-and-1 from the Auburn 26-yard line.
Orgeron could send his offense back out to go for it or attempt a 42-yard field goal knowing LSU had only one timeout left to get the ball back should his unit fail to convert. He chose the ladder.
Most of the paying customers who’d stay to see LSU rally back from deficits of 20-0 and 23-7 were nervous as Connor Culp and the field goal team jogged out onto the field. After all this was the same LSU team missed four of its first seven field goal attempts this season.
But not Orgeron.
“I kind of believed he was going to make it today for some reason,” Orgeron said with a genuine smile.
Culp rewarded that show of faith by drilling the 42-yard field goal to put LSU ahead 24-23 with less than three minutes to play. After a turnover on downs, Culp connected on a 36-yard try that solidified LSU’s wild come-from-behind 27-23 victory on Saturday afternoon.
The redshirt freshman from Phoenix started doing the mental math once LSU’s defense began stringing together stops in the second half. Trailing by nine, if LSU scored a touchdown, he knew he could have a chance to win the game.
That thought process kicked into overdrive as D.J. Chark began the fourth quarter with an electrifying punt return for a touchdown that brought the home Tigers within two points. Culp could be observed kicking into his practice net for nearly the entire fourth quarter.
Hoping to ease the nerves, Culp and his holder, Josh Growden, went over the ‘Gameplan’ that kickoff specialist Cameron Gamble drew up on a dry erase board on the sideline weeks earlier.
Growden: “Hey, where are you aiming?”
Culp: “Right down the middle.”
The gameplan. NEVER. FAILS. #YeaaaahhhhCup pic.twitter.com/SPxp26Kgoe
— C A M (@campaigncam__) October 14, 2017
He doesn’t remember seeing the ball split the uprights, per se, but it went exactly how he’d envisioned it through countless dry runs on the sidelines.
“It felt so good,” Culp said. “I didn’t really know where I was at. Everything kind of went black when I kicked it. About a minute after I found some composure like ‘Wow, I really did that.’ The rest of the team, I think I have a concussion now because I got hit in the head so many times.”
Teammates who observe Culp’s efforts in practice on a daily basis swear they weren’t as nervous as the thousands in the stands as LSU lined up for the go-ahead boot.
Cornerback Donte Jackson, one of the game’s defensive stars as LSU shut out Auburn in the second half, professed he never doubted him.
“He got it. He got it. Me and Culp are neighbors — he lives in the same neighborhood as me — so it’s in him. I knew it was in him,” Jackson said. “It’s a position that’s been getting a lot of grief since early in the year. A lot of people were saying we don’t have a field goal kicker. He hears that. That’s why he works constantly. Even when he doesn’t have to be kicking, he’s down there kicking by himself. He heard the noise.”
It’s not apparent whether Jackson realized the “noise” he refers to came directly from the mouth of LSU’s head coach. Two weeks ago Orgeron said on his radio show that “we don’t have a field goal kicker” on the roster and vowed to recruit one who could do the job.
“I heard about it indirectly,” Culp said. “I kind of thought of it as ‘Alright, I’ll just go ahead and prove to you that you got two excellent field goal kickers on your team.’ Jack (Gonsoulin) and I worked really hard these past few weeks and had a great week of practice. I think that translates into the game.”
Just stick to the gameplan — right down the middle — and Orgeron may not have to go out and sign that new kicker after all.
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