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Billy Napier, Louisiana football hold on to beat App State in Sun Belt Championship game

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Dec. 4, 2021

Click here for game photo gallery.

Levi Lewis threw for one touchdown and ran for another in the first half Saturday as the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns beat Appalachian State 24-16 in the the Sun Belt Conference Championship game  at Cajun Field.

It was the final game as coach of the Cajuns for Billy Napier, who will take over at Florida, and it marks the first outright Sun Belt championship in UL history since the league started sponsoring football in 2001.

Up 17-7 at halftime, No. 21 UL (12-1) allowed App State only a 36-yard Chandler Staton field goal in the third quarter before Emani Bailey helped make it 24-10 on a 35-yard touchdown run with just more than 12 minutes to go.

App State added a 24-yard TD pass from Chase Brice to Thomas Hennigan with just more than five minutes left, and got the ball back again with 29 seconds left, but UL held on in front of an announced crowd of 31,014.

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UL has won 12 straight since a season-opening to Texas, including an Oct. 12 win over App State. The Mountaineers (10-3) had their six-game winning streak snapped.

UL lost the first Sun Belt title games to App State, in 2018 and 201. It was to have played last year’s at Coastal Carolina, but it was canceled due to COVID-19 issues within the Chanticleers’ program.

UL took an early 7-0 lead behind a 7-yard pass from Lewis to Michael Jefferson, then extended it to 14-0 after Lewis ran in from 56 yards out early in the second quarter.

Camerun Peoples helped cut the Cajun lead in half behind a 43-yard touchdown run with 2:38 left in the first half, but Nate Snyder made it 17-7 UL on a 33-yard field with one second left before the break.

Emani Bailey runs crazy

When Bailey scored his fourth-quarter touchdown, he had 95 yards on nine carries, most of them coming in the second half.

He went over 100 yards later in the fourth quarter.

Bailey, who missed part of this season due to minor surgery, also had a crazy completion catch on his biggest game with the Cajuns. He is part of a three-man running back rotation along with starter Chris Smith and Montrell Johnson Jr.

Levi Lewis was sharp early

Quarterback Levi Lewis looked terrific on the opening drive of his final game at Cajun Field.

The super senior was 4-of-5 for 73 yards on the drive, including both the TD pass to Jefferson and a fourth-and-3 completion to Dontae Fleming.

His 56-yard TD run was the longest of his career, and the longest since the Sun Belt championship game was established in 2018.

The Cajun defense

Behind a Zi’Yon Hill sack and and AJ Washington breakup on a deep ball, UL forced App State to punt twice and held the Mountaineers to just 24 yards in the first quarter.

App State, in fact, was forced to punt out of its first four possessions and five of six in the half. Holding the Mountaineers to a field goal on their third-down scoring drive also was big for UL defense, which has kept the Cajuns in games for much of the season.

Defensive lineman Andre Jones came up with a huge play late, sacking Brice as App State went for two points following the Hennigan TD, and Kris Humphries and Chauncey Manac also key sacks in the final minute.

Nate Snyder was on

Snyder, who took over as the UL starter five games into the year after Kenneth Almendares sustained a season-ending hip injury, went into the game 3-of-8 on field goal attempts.

After making 3-of-4 in an Oct. 30 win over Texas State, Snyder went four straight games without making a field goal, a span in which he had just two attempts.

But he hit his 33-yard later in the first half, much to the relief of Napier, who has stuck by the transfer from Indiana ever since he added field goal chores to his usual kickoff duties.