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Football: Ragin’ Cajuns Defense Spearheads Second Straight Win

LAFAYETTE – Fueled by three takeaways the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns football team won its second straight Sun Belt Conference game defeating Texas State 24-7 on Thursday night at Cajun Field in front of a national audience on ESPNU.
The win moved the Ragin’ Cajuns (3-3, 2-1 Sun Belt) back to .500 and into the group of early contenders in the race for the Sun Belt title.
Quarterback Andre Nunez threw for 232 yards and added a late touchdown pass to lead the Louisiana passing attack.  Trey Ragas, again was a work horse for the Ragin’ Cajuns carrying the ball 19 times for 75 yards and two touchdowns while Keenan Barnes hauled in five catches for 99 yards and a touchdown reception.
The three turnovers the defense collected included an interception on a goal line situation late in the first half (Tracy Walker) that ensured the Bobcats (1-6, 0-3 Sun Belt) would remain behind by one possession when they crossed the goal line later in the second half.
Louisiana’s defense limited a foe to only one touchdown for the second straight outing. The unit limited Texas State to 325 yards of total offense.
HOW IT HAPPENED (First Quarter)
The Ragin’ Cajuns offense quickly marched down the field on their first possession, highlighted by Nunez’s 50-yard bomb to Barnes that put the Cajuns at the Bobcats 33. Two Ragas runs later, the last being a touchdown run, gave the Cajuns a lead they would not relinquish.
On the third play of the next Bobcats possession Louisiana’s Bennie Higgins forced a fumble that Damar’ren Mitchell pounced on to give the Cajuns the ball back with a short field and set up a score which placed the visitors in an early hole.
Six plays later the Cajuns reached the end zone following Ragas’ second touchdown of the game. A great catch and run from Ryheem Malone on a 20-yard pass from Nunez led to the score which put Louisiana ahead 14-0.
HOW IT HAPPENED (Second Quarter)
The Ragin’ Cajuns defense began the second quarter with a big fourth and inches stop on their own 30-yard line to give the ball back to their offense.
The teams traded defensive stops until two chunk plays by Texas State allowed them to march down the field and present a scoring threat.  Again the Cajuns defense came up strong. Fueled by a Taboris Lee sack, and finished off by Walker’s interception on the goal line Louisiana’s defense held ground to keep the Bobcats off the scoreboard.
HOW IT HAPPENED (Third Quarter):
Despite a great return from Raymond Calais and after the Cajuns took the ball over the 50, Texas State stopped the Cajuns on fourth down to flip possession early in the third quarter.
The Cajuns defense maintained the toughness they showed in the first half as they pushed Texas State back, powered by Lee’s second sack of the game to force a Bobcats punt just past the 10-minute mark in the quarter.
The two teams then traded punts to set up the Bobcats first scoring drive on the game.
A long pass of 49-yards set up Texas State’s first score of the game, finished off with a short touchdown run which timed the Louisiana lead to 14-7.
Looking to wrangle back the momentum the defense again came up big for the Ragin’ Cajuns, as on the Bobcats first play on their next possession Chaiziere Malbrue fought through a hold to knock the ball from quarterback Willie Jones III.
Malbrue fell on the fumble and it set up another Cajuns score as Stevie Artigue wrapped up the third quarter with a 27-yard field goal to put the Cajuns up 17-7.
HOW IT HAPPENED (Fourth Quarter)
Louisiana’s defense allowed only one first down on the Bobcats fourth quarter-opening drive, preventing the visitors from getting back into the game.
Taking over with 12:37 remaining in the contest, Louisiana followed Nunez, who went 5-for-5 on the drive, and marched 83 yards down the field to stretch the lead out.  Nunez capped off his great drive with a touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone to Barnes who made a great catch high pointing the ball to take it away from the Bobcats defender.
Louisiana travels to Jonesboro, Ark., to face Arkansas State on Thursday, Oct. 19 at Centennial Bank Stadium. The game is set for 6:30 p.m. on ESPNU.
 -Cajuns win toss and defer to the second half, they’re now 4-2 this season on the toss.
-Nunez’s 50-yard pass to Barnes in the first quarter is a new career long; The 50-yard reception ties a career long for Barnes career long, the previous high came at Tulsa on Sept. 9.
-The opening scoring drive is the first time this season the Cajuns have taken the opening drive down for a score and it was the third fastest scoring drive on the season for the Cajuns.
Trey Ragas‘ two touchdowns in the first half is his first career multi-rushing touchdown game.
Bennie Higgins recorded his first career forced fumble; Damar’ren Mitchell recovered it for his first career recovery.
-First time Cajuns held a team scoreless in the first quarter since doing it at Tulane on Sept. 24, 2016; First time the Cajuns held a team scoreless in the first half since doing it vs. Southern on Aug. 30, 2014.
-Cajuns are 28-for-28 in the red zone this season (4-for-4 tonight with three touchdowns and one field goal); They’re one of six teams that are perfect in FBS entering this game.
Raynard Ford had his first career reception on a nine yard catch halfway through the second quarter.
Taboris Lee had his sack of the season late in the second quarter; Early in the third quarter Lee added another sack for his first career multi-sack game.
Tracy Walker got his second interception (eighth of his career) late in the second quarter; Walker finished with seven tackles and it puts his career total at 221, putting him 11 tackles away from cracking the top five in school history for defensive backs.
Chaiziere Malbrue filled the stat sheet with his first career sack, first career forced fumble and his first career fumble recovery late in the third quarter.
-This is the first time the Cajuns have forced at least three turnovers in a game since recording five against ULM on Dec. 3, 2016.
Louisiana Head Coach Mark Hudspeth
On the Defensive Performance:
"We continued to get off the field, got good pressure on the quarterback and even got the big turnover that led straight to a field goal. I just felt, defensively, it was another step in the right direction, that’s back to back outstanding games we’ve had by the defense. We had a lot of guys play and a lot of guys made plays and I was excited to see that."
On the Offensive Performance:
"I thought, offensively, we got off to an incredible start with two quick scores really early. We sort of got out of rhythm a little bit, we had some dropped passes, missed assignment here, and a couple things that just kept us from really executing to really put the game away we just couldn’t quite put the game away until late."
On Louisiana’s Late Drives:
"We finally got some other drives going midway through the fourth. Keenan Barnes made a great play in the end zone on a great throw. And at the end of the game he was able to run the ball effectively to run the clock out."
On Overall Offensive Performance:
"Offensively, zero turnovers; kicking game wise, zero mistakes; it was just a solid routine victory and that’s why I’m so proud about this football team. They’ve battled back, and now they’re 3-3, 2-1 in conference, and we’ve got a lot of football ahead of us and we’re getting better each week. I was really proud of our guys."
On What’s Next:
"We have to build on this we have to get ready now, a week now from today we play on Thursday night again against a very talented Arkansas State team. We’ll get back to work tomorrow and see what we can improve upon because there’s still a lot of room for improvement. But I’m proud of the improvement we did made."
Texas State Head Coach Everett Withers
On the Turnovers:
"We turned it over more than they did, which led to our loss."
One Having Three Turnovers:
"Any time you turn the ball over it’s not good.  There are no good turnovers."
On Quarterback Willy Jones, III’s Game:
"Willy [Jones,III] was up and down, he wasn’t very consistent, but there’s something to build on in the future."
On Willy Jones’ Running Ability:
"That’s kind of what we envisioned when we signed Willy, that we would be able to add more to our run game."
On the Team’s Tackling Performance:
"We kept people in front of us and tackled better and played the different calls"