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Football: Bowl-bound Ragin’ Cajuns still furious over Sun Belt cancellation by Coastal Carolina

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Dec. 21, 2020

Before turning full attention to playing UTSA at the First Responder Bowl in Dallas, the Ragin’ Cajuns had something to get off their chests.

They’re still hopping mad about learning Saturday’s Sun Belt Conference championship game at No. 11 Coastal Carolina had been canceled due to COVID-19 issues within the Chanticleers’ program.

“We’re gonna get a final opportunity to compete with the group of players and this staff,” coach Billy Napier said, “and I think the big thing here is that we’ve got to channel some of that emotion that we did have about not having an opportunity to compete for a championship.

“We’ve got to take that anger and frustration and disappointment – we’ve got to move forward here, and use those things as fuel on the fire here to get ready to play.”

The No. 17 Cajuns (9-1) could have had a shot at a New Year’s Six game, probably the Peach Bowl, if they had won the title game and Tulsa had upset Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference championship game.

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That point was rendered somewhat moot as the Bearcats won 27-24 with a last-second field goal.

But that didn’t necessarily lessen the sting for the Cajuns, who flew to South Carolina on Thursday hoping to avenge their only loss of the season – 30-28 on Oct. 14 to Coastal Carolina – only to return to Louisiana on Friday. Now the disappointed Cajuns will fly Thursday to Dallas to face the Roadrunners (7-4) of Conference USA on Saturday (2:30 p.m., ABC).  

“I think I can speak for everybody in our organization that we were extremely disappointed with the turn of events over the last few days,” Napier said Sunday in his first comments to reporters since the cancellation. “I think we’ve got a very competitive culture here. We’ve got a very competitive group of people.

“And we certainly were excited about the opportunity to settle who the champion was on the field. And we didn’t get an opportunity to do that as a result of COVID-19 and all the, you know, interpretations of the situation at Coastal.”

The Chanticleers (11-0) canceled because of a positive COVID test and related contact tracing quarantine that depleted its defensive line group.

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“So,” Napier said, “the way I’ve said it to many people in conversation was you felt like you lose but you didn’t get the thrill of competing.

“There was nothing easy not about (not playing Saturday). It was a very difficult day, to sit in our homes and watch other teams compete for championships. We were the only league in the country that did not have a conference championship game … and that’s a crying shame.”  

On Sunday, UL athletic director Bryan Maggard tried to put having to break news of the cancellation to the Cajuns in proper perspective.

“This pales in comparison to having to inform a team, or a staff, about the loss of life,” he said. “So this isn’t in the same category of the 35 phone calls I made to each baseball player after Coach (Tony) Robichaux passed.

“But I will tell you: Outside of that type of catastrophic event, this was the hardest thing I’ve had to do – and that was stand up in front of the team at 10 p.m. (Thursday) in the hotel banquet room and tell that we had to cancel the game, that they could not play for a Sun Belt championship.

“So, I hurt for them because I know how hard they worked. I hurt for the coaching staff and the support staff for the football team because I know what they had done leading up to this and how well prepared we were.”

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Maggard also said he also was “extremely disappointed” for the league and for college football.

“I thought it was a missed opportunity to continue to elevate the profile of the Sun Belt Conference,” he said.

Maggard was asked if he felt proper protocols were followed prior to the decision to cancel.

“You’d have to talk to Coastal Carolina in terms of the protocols they followed and the accuracy and relevancy of that, right?” Maggard said. “But I know this: At the end of the day their medical professionals declared than an entire position (group) had to be quarantined.

“I am not a medical doctor. I do not have the authority to question their decisions. And so at this point we have (to), and will, live with it.”

Bottom line: Does Maggard think the Chanticleers were ducking a rematch with the Cajuns?

Reluctant to personally go that far, Maggard laughs.

“That’s a great question … You’d have to ask them, you know,” he said. “I think that, you know, they did what they thought they had to do in terms of COVID protocols, and I’ll leave it at that.”

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