Early Doucet dropped the ball. Can we admit that now, nearly ten years later? Doucet caught the hail mary, got his foot down, and slid out of the end zone. But when his body hit the ground, the ball popped out. That wasn't a catch... but there wasn't an official cruel enough to take that play away.
Sometimes, a game is bigger than the game, and the 2005 season opener was about as big as a football game could be to the LSU community, precisely because it was just a game. The twin punches of Katrina and Rita delayed the start the football season, but more importantly, those storms turned Louisiana upside down. The PMAC served as a makeshift hospital as refugees flooded into Baton Rouge, overwhelming the town.
Our home wasn't really home anymore. I had just moved to central Texas, and even in Waco, we opened up our churches and our homes to people fleeing the devastation. Nothing was the same, and really, all we wanted was just a little bit of normalcy. The 2005 LSU season wasn't about winning football games, it was about providing a small measure of comfort.
LSU opened at "home" in Tempe. In the scramble to get the game off, tickets didn't go on sale until the Monday of game week, leading to a not nearly at capacity home game on the road. It was the oddest scene for a game, but at least there was a game. This was the scene for Les Miles' debut, replacing the first LSU coach to win a national title since 1958. I will argue that this was the single toughest debut for any head coach in college football in my lifetime. Replace the most successful coach in 30 years, but also do it during a national disaster while your players have refugees sleeping on the floor, if they are even lucky enough to have a floor not flooded over. Oh, and no big deal, but arguably your best player, returning running back Alley Broussard, is injured and lost for the season.
Early Doucet set the tone early by dropping an easy first down catch on the first drive of the game, which set up Chris Jackson's fake punt from the end zone. It would not be Doucet's last drop, as he and the other receivers made critical drop after critical drop throughout the game. This also wouldn't be the first great special teams play of the game. However, the fake punt didn't lead to any points. The LSU offense sputtered for three quarters, as the Tigers fell behind 17-7.
And then the magic happened.
On the second play of the fourth quarter, Arizona St set up for a 47 yard field goal. Claude Wroten blocked the kick and Mario Stevenson returned it all the way for a touchdown. Suddenly, a dismal game was now a 17-14 nailbiter.
A little less than a minute and half later, Jacob Hester blocked an Arizona State punt, which Craig Steltz returned for a touchdown. The offense was still sputtering, but now LSU had a 21-17 lead thanks to two special teams plays, a Les Miles trademark (though we didn't know it yet).
Instead of meekly going into the night, the Sun Devils matched LSU's insanity. Sam Keller drove his team down the field and converted a fourth and six at the LSU 37. The next play, he threw for a touchdown, and ASU was back on top 24-21.
Skyler Green took that personally, and after hauling in a big third down conversion, he busted a run for 41 yards down to the ASU 6. Two plays later, Joseph Addai put LSU back on top. More points had been scored in the fourth quarter than in the previous three, and we were only halfway through the final frame.
Arizona St responded again, this time with a pretty brilliant 13 play, 80 yard drive. LSU was clearly gassed at this point. It looked like whoever had the ball last was going to win. So JaMarcus Russell, the comeback kid himself, guided the LSU offense down the field: 10 plays and 91 yards, capped off with a 39 yard hail mary heave on fourth down to Early Doucet for the go ahead score.
What is often forgotten is that LSU left over a minute on the clock, and Arizona St drove down the field yet again. With 48 seconds left in the game, Sam Keller had the Sun Devils on the LSU 28 yard line, with four downs to work with. The LSU defense rose up and forced four incompletions to seal an improbable, heart-pounding victory.
All of Louisiana went nuts, and for just one moment, everything was normal. The game didn't rebuild a single building, it didn't heal a single patient, and it didn't unite a single family. But it did make us feel good and really, that's something we all desperately needed at the time.
LSU had to win this game, and they did. Even if we may have gotten some home cooking on that touchdown call. It also kicked off the most exciting era in LSU football history. We'd never seen a game like this, and now... this is what we've come to expect.