LITTLE ROCK - Louisiana - Monroe head coach Todd Berry had a good feeling coming into the game against No. 8 Arkansas in Little Rock.
He expected his Warhawks to play well. But he admitted he wasn’t sure they could win, so ULM’s 34-31 overtime win at War Memorial Stadium shocked him.
The win was the first against a Top 25 for ULM since moving to the Football Bowl Subdivision in 1994. The Warhawks are now 4-34 against SEC teams.
“I thought we had a chance to win coming into the game, but that doesn’t guarantee a win,” Berry said. “I told the kids at halftime it was going to the fourth quarter and then it’s going to come down to who blinked first. When it went into overtime, I felt really good. I trusted we weren’t going to flinch.”
Coming off a 4-8 season in 2011, Berry delivered a simple pep talk before the game to his Warhawks.
“I went in and said ‘You guys have done everything that you needed to do to win a game, now you just need to go out and have fun,’” Berry said, while blinking back tears. “I kind of smiled at them and all of a sudden I got all these smiles back. Then they started jumping around. It wasn’t much of a pregame talk.”
The win was especially sweet for ULM safety Mitch Lane. The Pine Bluff native is one of nine Arkansans on the Warhawks roster.
“I don’t even know how many (friends and family were in the stands,” Lane said. “I couldn’t count them all.”
The Warhawks earned roughly a $500,000 payday for being one of the Razorbacks’ nonconference opponents. Berry admitted his team need the cash infusion for playing an SEC opponent.
“They spent 60 million more dollars on their athletic budget than we did last year, so we came in sort of in the hole in a lot of things,” Berry said.
ULM is the third head coaching stop for Berry. He was at Football Championship Series school Illinois State from 1996-99. Then he moved to Army in 2000 and was fired in 2003 after an 0-6 start. His career coaching record was 38-74 going into the Arkansas game.
After Army, he spent two seasons at ULM as the offensive coordinator under Charlie Weatherbie, one season at Miami as the quarterbacks coach and three seasons at UNLV as the offensive coordinator. Based on his experiences in those places, he thinks Saturday’s win might be a program changer for ULM.
“I’ve been around two of the biggest turnarounds in college football,” Berry said. “One of the real deciding factors in those huge turnarounds was we went on the road and beat somebody nobody thought we could beat. Then everything changed. The attitude changed. The mentality changed.”
With another SEC team looming next week in Auburn, the Warhawks can’t afford to celebrate their historic win for very long. Berry said he’s not worried about that.
“There’s elation anytime that you win. But I don’t know if anybody is having one of those out of body experiences,” Berry said. “The only way this becomes real - I know it and I think our players know it - is if we play well next week against a really, really good Auburn team. That’s the only way this win becomes validated.”