While the Warhawk Nation spent the week fretting about Kolton Browning's health, the gritty redshirt freshman quarterback was steeling himself for the best performance of his career.
Battling through an ankle injury that has slowed him as the season progresses, Browning tied a school record with five touchdown passes, completed 18-of-23 passes for 247 yards and rushed for 73 yards in ULM's 49-37 win over North Texas at Malone Stadium.
"I felt good today," Browning said. "I went and got treatment all week. The adrenaline was going and I didn't feel it much when I was running around out there."
After protecting him with a limited game plan in the loss to LSU, ULM's offensive staff took the full wrapper off Browning again in the shootout with North Texas.
"He is not feeling his typical self, but he is a tough rascal now," ULM coach Todd Berry said. "He's very, very competitive. He's hurting, but he wants to play and he fights through it."
The lefty scrambled for yardage when needed, took his licks and hung in the pocket to throw downfield for a pair of long touchdowns to Je'Ron Hamm and Luther Ambrose.
"Coach Farmer did a great job making play calls and our O-line did a fantastic job blocking up front as far as holding off defenders," Browning said. "We had a really great day running and passing the ball."
North Texas interim head coach Mike Canales praised Browning's elusiveness.
"I thought we had decent pressure on them, and the kid is a good player," Canales said. "He takes off on scrambles, he creates plays, and you think you've got him and he sneaks out and behind and runs for a bunch and gets the first down."
Back-to-back losses to Florida International and LSU stung Browning more than his assorted ailments. With ULM's shot at bowl eligibility on the table, he practiced all week to help his team bounce back.
"We know what we're capable of," Browning said. "To go out and produce zero points like we did against LSU, we knew that wasn't us. We wanted to get back and show everybody when we had a really explosive day."
Browning's five touchdowns were the most since Andre Vige did it against Portland State in the 1998 season finale at Malone Stadium.
"I coach him, and because of that I'm intimate with where he started," said Berry, who said he doesn't recall coaching a quarterback who threw five touchdowns in a game. "I'm really, really proud of him. He's done an outstanding job and has a chance to be really, really good. I compare him to other guys I've worked with and he's got a chance to be really special."
Getting defensive: Saturday's win was a showcase for the offensive fan but ULM's defense helped seal the victory at Malone Stadium with a pair of timely takeaways.
ULM held a 28-27 lead late in the third quarter when Troy Evans pawed the ball loose from running back Lance Dunbar and Nate Brown recovered the fumble at the North Texas 47. The Warhawks parlayed the turnover into a Jyruss Edwards touchdown five plays later to go up 35-27 with 13:42 remaining.
"We came out and did what we had to do to win," Evans said. "We made plays when we had to." With the Warhawks leading 49-37 with 2:52 to go, Alex Ibe's interception sucked the final life out of the Mean Green's quick-strike offense.
"We worked on that coverage all week" said Ibe, who made six tackles and recorded a sack. "We had a lot of pressure on the quarterback. I just had to catch the ball."
Luther's Lightning: Wide receiver Luther Ambrose, who dazzled with seven receptions for 140 yards and two touchdowns, came up big as ULM scored 21 points in the fourth quarter.
His over-the-shoulder 53-yard touchdown catch between two defenders put ULM ahead 42-30 with 7:58 remaining.
"We wanted to take shots down the field and make plays when we had the opportunity," Ambrose said. "We did that tonight." ULM held a five-point lead at 42-37 later in the 31-point fourth quarter when Ambrose turned a screen pass into a 49-yard gainer to the North Texas 22. The catch and run set up ULM's third and final touchdown in the period.
"We're working on his speed," Berry deadpanned during Ambrose's interview with the media.
What a rush: The Warhawks ran for a season-high 233 yards with three players topping 60 yards. Frank Goodin led with 75 and a touchdown, Browning had 73 and Jyruss Edwards contributed 63.
Berry said the offensive line was a bright spot in the loss at LSU and seemed to build on that performance against North Texas.
"I think we showed up and attempted to be very physical up front," Berry said. "The backs ran hard. We're just a much more defined offense right now."
Quote to note: "This year has taught me a lot, that it's not about me, it's about the team. With everyone talking about the record, I pretty much got into that mindset that that's a thing I must do. I learned a lot from that, I have to worry about the team not myself." – ULM running back Frank Goodin.
Up next: Bowl eligibility is on the line as ULM (5-6, 4-3) closes the regular season with Louisiana-Lafayette at Malone Stadium. Kickoff is 2:30 p.m.
ULL lost 38-17 to Florida International on Saturday night at Cajun Field. The Ragin' Cajuns (2-9, 2-5) have lost seven straight games.
Tail feathers: ULM is 4-0 at home and has won nine of its last 10 games at Malone Stadium. … ULM great Chris "The Hitman" Harris attended the game and was recognized on the field in the first half. Harris was able to visit Monroe because his Chicago Bears played on Thursday night. … Darius Prelow led ULM with eight tackles. … Lance Dunbar ran for a game-high 134 yards on 19 carries for North Texas while Riley Dodge was 14-of-26 passing for 164 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Listen to ULM Quarterback Kolton Browning below.