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Football: Cajuns lose critical nailbiter at South Alabama

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, November 13, 2015



Ragin’ Cajuns wide receiver Jamal Robinson (4) catches a 45 yard touchdown against South Alabama Jaguars safety Roman Buchanan (23)during their NCAA football game at Ladd-Peebles Stadium Thursday in Mobile, Ala.(Photo: Brad Kemp/RaginCajuns.com, Brad Kemp/RaginCajuns.com)


MOBILE, Ala. – As players were hugged, and others looked as if tears had been welling in their eyes, the pain was apparent.

UL had just fallen 32-25 to South Alabama in an ESPNU-televised game at Ladd-Peeples Stadium here, and it was obvious the Ragin’ Cajuns were taking this one hard.

“It hurt,” Cajuns cornerback Savion Brown said. “It was a tough one. It was a hard pill to swallow. But we’ve just got to continue to play right, and just to continue to grind the whole way.”

Brown’s 85-yard pick-six with about eight-and-a-half minutes left put UL ahead by a point, but it wasn’t enough for the Ragin’ Cajuns to pull one off after being in a hole early yet again.

The Jaguars got a 16-yard touchdown run from Xavier Johnson with 3:32 left, and quarterback Cody Clements followed with a two-point conversion run.

UL’s ensuing drive ended with two Brooks Haack incompletions, a short completion and an incomplete pass intended for Al Riles, giving South Alabama – which improved to 5-4 – the ball back with 2:34 left.

“Time really wasn’t an issue,” Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth said. “I would have bet the farm that we were gonna win the game on the final drive, but came up short. Didn’t get it done.”

Clements had one touchdown throw and one touchdown catch, and Johnson had two TD runs for the Jaguars, who ran out the clock and have now beaten UL two of the last three years.

“I’ve got to give them a bunch of credit,” said Haack, who finished 21-of-34 for a career-high 270 yards with one interception and one TD throw.

“They had a really, really good defensive scheme. But it was one of those thing that at the end of the game we’ve just got to … put it on ourselves to go down and make plays, and it just so happened that we fell short a couple times. And it hurt.”


Ragin’ Cajuns defensive back Savion Brown (6) breaks the tackle of South Alabama Jaguars linebacker Tavon Cox (10) on a pick six during their NCAA football game at Ladd-Peebles Stadium Thursday in Mobile, Ala. (Photo: Brad Kemp/RaginCajuns.com)

Several on UL’s defense did their part, with Otha Peters making a career-high 13 tackles, Taboris Lee making a career-high 10 including three tackles-for-loss and Darzil Washington finishing with four TFLs including a sack.

Offensively, though, the Cajun ground game was limited to 43 yards and running back Elijah McGuire was held to 21 yards on 11 carries.

“Their scheme was pretty good against the run,” Hudspeth said.

“We didn’t run the ball at all, and that’s sort of a little bit (concerning). … But that last drive wasn’t any different (than any others). They just had good coverage on it and broke to the ball.”

The now 4-5 Cajuns went into halftime down by 11, marking the sixth time this season they have trailed at the break – and the fifth time they have trailed by double digits after two quarters.

UL pulled to within four at 17-13 when McGuire ran in from 3 yards out with 10:44 remaining in the third quarter, and Stevie Artigue added the PAT.

The Cajuns pitched a third-quarter shutout for the second time in three outings, and it stayed that way going into the fourth.

It was just more than three minutes into the fourth, though, when South Alabama turned to some trickery and took a 24-13 lead.

Shortly after Alabama-Birmingham transfer Clements threw a 59-yard pass completion over Brown, who was targeted frequently, Clements caught a 7-yard TD pass from Gerald Everett.

Everett got the ball on a reverse from Wildcat Dami Ayoola, then hit a wide-open Clements.

“You tip your hat when they draw one up like that,” Hudspeth said, “and say, ‘Hey, good job, we’ll get ’em the next time.’ ”

The Cajuns answered with a 45-yard TD pass from Haack to Jamal Robinson, who earlier passed current San Diego Chargers tight end Ladarius Green (2,201) for fourth place and Donald Richard (2,326) on UL’s all-time receiving yards leaders list.

Robinson, who had a career-high 10 catches for a career-high 188 yards, also tied Fred Stamps for fourth-most Cajun career receiving TDs with 19.

Brown then atoned by scoring UL’s first pick-six since Corey Trim’s in the Cajuns’ 2013 New Orleans Bowl win over Tulane. It was the fifth-longest interception return in Cajun history.

UL went for two after Brown’s touchdown, but the play failed, making it 25-24 Cajuns until South Alabama answered.

The Cajuns opened with Haack at quarterback, but he went just two plays before yielding way to Jalen Nixon.

The two went back and forth for much of the night, with both playing within multiple series.

Four plays after he entered, Nixon ran in from 18 yards out to put UL up 6-0. Following two flags, however, Artigue’s PAT was blocked.

It was the third straight game in which UL has scored on its opening drive – but the first time among the three that the Cajuns produced a TD.

South Alabama answered right away, going 72 yards in nine plays and getting a 9-yard TD run from Johnson.

Aleem Sunanon’s 25-yard field goal with 6:20 left in the second quarter extended the Jaguar lead to 10-6.

With 20 seconds left in the half, South Alabama got a 10-touchdown pass from Clements to Everett that helped the Jaguars go into the break with a 17-6 lead.

Despite retaking the lead, however, UL couldn’t quite finish.

“I’m just hurting for our team,” Hudspeth said, “because they really left everything they had on the field.”