From the Sidelines

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 28, 2000

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / October 28, 2000

The LSU Tigers and New Orleans Saints had many similarities heading into the 2000 season.

Both were coming off three-win seasons in 1999. Both had new headcoaches, Nick Saban at LSU and Jim Haslett for New Orleans, who had defensive backgrounds. Both teams had some talent but had a number ofquestion marks as the season opens.

Those similarities grew as the season opened. Both teams got off to slowstarts. The Saints opened 1-3 before their bye week. The Tigers got off to a2-2 start that included a loss at home to Alabama-Birmingham. Neither wasexpected to be a factor the rest of the season.

But both teams began to turn their seasons around at about the same time.

The Saints have won three straight while LSU has upset ranked teams Tennessee and Mississippi State in overtime thrillers and blanked Kentucky.

This past weekend, the teams added another similarity. Both overcameadversity to achieve victories that may have a major impact on the rest of their seasons.

The Saints went into Atlanta Sunday riding a 10-game losing streak to the Falcons. That trend looked like it would continue as the Falcons drove ontheir first possession to a 50-yard field goal by that old fan favorite and nemesis of the Saints, Morten Andersen. But the Saints answered with adrive of their own, capped by a 12-yard touchdown run by Ricky Williams.

Atlanta came back in the second quarter with another Andersen field goal and a 52-yard touchdown pass from Chris Chandler to Tim Dwight to take a 13-7 lead. Then came an intentional grounding call against Jeff Blake that ateup the last 19 seconds of the clock before halftime, leaving the Saints without any points on a drive that reached the Falcons’ 18-yard line.

The Saints came back with two touchdowns to take a 21-13 lead. Then afterthe Falcons scored to pull to within 21-19, it was Sammy Knight diving to tip away a pass on the two-point conversion.

It was a familiar sight for Saints fans when the team took over its final possession with 2:58 left. In the past, the team would have ran three playsand punted. The Falcons would drive down the field and Andersen would sendanother stake through the hearts of Saints fans.

But not this time. First, it was Blake hitting Lamont Hall for a first down justbefore the two-minute warning. Then it was Joe Horn reaching back to grabanother third-down pass from Blake, allowing the Saints to run out the clock.

The night before, LSU faced a similar situation. Two plays into the game, theTigers trailed the Bulldogs after an 82-yard pass play. The Tigers answeredwith two touchdowns to take a 14-7 lead. Mississippi State came right backto grab the lead at 17-14 at halftime.

Mississippi State extended that lead to 31-17 by the end of the third quarter. Back came the Tigers with a 21-point explosion in the fourthquarter. But the Tigers could not leash the Bulldogs who drove for the tyingtouchdown with 1:54 left in the game.

For the second time in a month, a game in Tiger Stadium went to overtime.

And for the second time, the Tigers lost the toss but got to defend the North end zone in front of the student section. On the second play, ReggieRobinson made an acrobatic catch for a 11-yard gain to the 13. LaBrandonToefield took it in on the next play. Four plays later, after the Tigers stoppedthe Bulldogs two yards short of a first down, LSU was celebrating another overtime victory over a ranked opponent.

Both LSU and the Saints still have a ways to go. But both took a big step lastweekend. Winning teams make plays when they have to. They don’t let a bitof adversity stand in the way of what they want to achieve, Both the Tigers and Saints achieved both those goals in one memorable 24-hour period.

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