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Football: Cajuns give spirited effort vs. App State but fall short

Thomas Sherrill, The Advertiser, Oct. 21, 2018

BOONE, N.C. — A spirited effort from the UL Ragin’ Cajuns was not enough, as Appalachian State came away with a 27-17 victory in a Saturday Sun Belt showdown in Boone.

“They’re well-coached and we have a tremendous amount of respect for how they play the game,” head coach Billy Napier said after the loss.

The Mountaineers (5-1, 2-0 Sun Belt) were able to come away with the low-scoring contest, as the Cajuns (3-4 overall, 2-2 Sun Belt) held the highest-scoring offense in the league to three touchdowns below its average of 48.4 points per game.

More: With a different approach, Napier has UL ‘getting better’

A week after breaking a school record with 753 total yards of offense versus New Mexico State, UL struggled most of the game on offense before rallying late to finish with 328 total yards.

RB Trey Ragas led the Cajuns’ offense with 81 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown.

“I feel like we didn’t play our best game today,” Ragas said. “We left a lot out on the field.”

Senior quarterback Andrew Nunez finished 14-of-23 for 108 yards passing. Sophomore Levi Lewis went 3-of-4 passing for 80 yards and a touchdown.

More: Series history shows Appalachian State owns the Cajuns

The two top offenses in the Sun Belt started the game timid, but an early break went UL’s way as the defensive line stuffed App State running back Marcus Williams Jr. on third and fourth down at the Cajuns’ 28-yard line.

However, the momentum shift was undone two plays later as a botched snap resulted in UL’s only turnover of the game. Four plays later, Darrynton Evans made it 7-0 App State with a two-yard touchdown run.

Lewis came in as quarterback on the Cajuns’ next drive. On third down, Lewis scrambled and found a wide-open Elijah Mitchell for a 38-yard touchdown to tie the game 7-7.

The teams then traded field goals to make it 10-10 with 9:02 until half. Eric Garror made up for an earlier defensive pass interference with an interception of App State quarterback Zac Thomas, but the Cajuns went three-and-out. The Mountaineers then retook the lead after a 20-yard Thomas-to-Evans touchdown with 2:11 until half.

On the second play of the second half, the Cajuns defense was saw its only big lapse as Evans tore off a 65-yard run. A six-yard Marcus Williams Jr. touchdown run followed to make it a 24-10 deficit.

“We knew what (the Mountaineers) were going to do, we just didn’t perform as well as we should have,” Ragas said. "I felt like I left something out there and I could have done a couple things better.”

The UL defense stepped up after the Evans run, forcing three straight punts. A 21-yard App punt left UL with a golden chance starting at the App 32 late in the third. But the chance was wasted as Mitchell was stuffed on two consecutive runs to turn the ball over on downs in the red zone.

An App State field goal with 2:46 left made it 27-10, but the UL offense came alive with a seven-play, 69-yard drive, capped off with a 27-yard Ragas touchdown to make it 27-17 with 59 seconds left.

An onside kick attempt by Pfau bounced off an App State upback and was recovered by Jordan Wright, but the ensuing drive ended with a turnover on downs.

Despite the loss, UL was able to take positives into its crucial Sun Belt West Division showdown next Saturday at Cajun Field against Arkansas State.

"I know for a fact the team will put all our energy into Arkansas State so we can win on our side and come see (App State) again," Ragas said.