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Football: How a field goal at the end decided pressured filled Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns spring game

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, April 23, 2021

Vermilion and White Spring Football game. Thursday, April 22, 2021.

If facing pressure situations and handling them well was what he wanted out of UL’s 2021 spring gameRagin’ Cajuns coach  Billy Napier got it.

Chandler Fields completed a 43-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Bernard with 27 seconds left to pull his White team to within one, then followed with a two-point conversion throw to tight end Pearse Migl for the lead.

But Levi Lewis drove the Vermilion in position for a 51-yard game-winning field goal from Kenneth Almendares, who had missed from 45 earlier. Almendares nailed it as time expired in the 13-11 win Thursday night at Cajun Field.

“You couldn’t draw it up much better,” Napier said of the way it ended.

It was a fitting end for a team as experienced as the Cajuns, who have starters at every position on offense except running back and every position on defense except Jack outside linebacker returning. Top running backs Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas are 2021 NFL draft prospects, and linebacker Joe Dillon is done too.

But Lewis is back for his third season as a starter and leading 2020 tacklers Lorenzo McCaskill and Ferrod Gardner, who were both injured and out Thursday, return too. 

Some takeaways from Thursday:

Lewis got going late

Lewis looked less than sharp on his Vermilion’s team first drive, but he sure did heat up late.

The initial drive started with an incomplete pass thrown over the head of tight end Neal Johnson, and ended with Lewis getting intercepted in the end zone by linebacker Kris Moncrief.

Before the first half was done, however, Lewis connected with Johnson on a 5-yard TD throw and piloted a two-minute offense drive that ended with a 28-yard field goal from Almendares.

Lewis finished 15 of 26 for 167 yards on a night that could help him in the fall.

“It’s real valuable,” he said of the having to come from behind late, “mainly just being out there, getting the competitive experience out of everyone.”

Next step:How the Cajuns football can use ‘the deep shot’ to improve offense

Experience:Why Cajuns nose tackle Tayland Humphrey decided to wait for NFL Draft

Fields opened with accuracy

White starter Fields looked sharp from the get-go.

Fields, who shared backup duties and ran UL’s scout team last season, went 5 of 5 for 41 yards on his first drive, which ended in a punt.

Fields has been battling two newcomers, former Maryland backup Lance LeGendre and former Fresno State Ben Wooldridge, to be UL’s No. 2 in 2021.

Napier called Fields the clubhouse leader for the job early in the spring, and he appeared to help his cause while moving the chains Thursday. Fields finished 12 of 15 for 136 yards, which did not seem surprising at all to the Cajuns coach.

“What you saw today is what we’ve been seeing behind the scenes,” Napier said.

Moncrief, Brooks look strong

Early on the first Vermilion drive after his interception, Moncrief also brought running back Chris Smith down 4 yards behind the line of scrimmage.

With McCaskill recovering from shoulder surgery, he has got extensive work at the Mike inside linebacker spot – and appears to make have made the most of it.

Reserve safety Blair Brooks also made a favorable impression with 10 total tackles.

“Blair has tackled well, in the scrimmages, in practices. He has played with physicality,” Napier said. “He has a bright future.”

Smith leaves little doubt

Smith left little doubt he is ready to step into the No. 1 running back spot, gaining 61 yards and averaging 4.4 per carry on 14 rushes. Smith also pulled in an 18-yard pass from Lewis to set up the game-winning field goal by Almendares.

Freshman Emani Bailey also solidified his bid, Napier indicated, to become a part of UL’s three-man backfield rotation with Mitchell and Ragas gone.

“We probably rushed it better in this scrimmage than we did in the first and second scrimmages,” Napier.

Transition:Playing QB for UL not as easy for Fields as throwing to Ja’Marr Chase

Experience:Why Cajuns nose tackle Humphrey will wait another year for NFL Draft

Transfer:Role of ex-ULM OL T.J. Fiailoa with rival Ragin’ Cajuns still unclear for now

Long road:How UL running back T.J. Wisham is recovering from wrist injury, surgeries

Elder:Why Cajuns OL Ken Marks is back for rare seventh season

Newcomer:Here’s what’s known about new Ragin’ Cajuns running back Jacob Kibodi

Freshman:How Kyren Lacy seized opportunity after leaving Thibodaux for UL

Coordinator:How UL DC Patrick Toney grew wiser in 2020 – and elevated a defense

Sharing:Napier names two assistants co-coordinators for Ragin’ Cajuns offense