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Football: Louisiana coach Billy Napier explains his thinking in wacky win at App State + video hlts

Tim Buckley, The Daily Advertiser, Dec. 5, 2020

It all worked out.

But after winning 24-21 Friday at Appalachian State, beating the Mountaineers for the first time in program history, Billy Napier found himself defending perhaps his most interesting decision in three seasons as coach of the Ragin’ Cajuns.

Up five points with time dwindling, facing fourth-and-two at its own 35-yard line, No. 21 UL (9-1, 7-1 Sun Belt) took an intentional safety. Quarterback Levi Lewis killed a few extra seconds, then stepped out of the back of the end zone.

App State (7-3, 5-2) immediately got the ball needing a touchdown to win but only a field goal for overtime.

As it happened, Chandler Staton’s 30-yard attempt missed wide left with one second remaining. Napier and the Cajuns got away with one, then had some explaining to do.

More:Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns vs. Appalachian State football video highlights

“Well … what would you do out there?” Napier asked. “Do you want to run the snapper and the punter back out there and see if we can do that?

“We can do that if you want. But we felt like the best opportunity to win was to take a safety there and make sure we didn’t give up a bad play.”

The weather outside was frightful

In cold, windy, rainy conditions at Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, North Carolina, usually reliable snapper Paul Boudreaux had issues all night.

“It was not a great environment for specialists – or quarterbacks, truth be known,” Napier said.

“There was a spell right in there in the second quarter where it stopped raining, and we kind of threw it around a little bit more. But the first quarter, and really probably halfway through the third all the way to the end of the game, man, it was blowing sideways in there. It was cold, and wet. Unlike any game I’ve ever played in.”

Boudreaux already had sailed three snaps over punter Rhys Byrns’ head, the first leading to an Appalachian State touchdown, the last resulting in another safety as Byrns had to kick the ball out of bounds, making it 24-19 with 6:36 to go.

More:When the No. 21 Ragin’ Cajuns visit Appalachian State, Bobby Lamb has inside knowledge

Boudreaux also had two high snaps on PATs, one prior to a failed 2-point conversion throw by holder Dalen Cambre, and another right before a late timeout.

So, as much as he might have wanted to flip the field, bringing back Boudreaux and Byrns, in Napier’s mind, wasn’t an option. But did he consider trying to pick up the 2 yards, which – if successful – would have eliminated the field goal option?

“Yeah,” Napier said, “we did.”

They ultimately did not go for it. But if they had, and even if it had failed, they only would have given up 20 yards, as it happened, after the safety and the ensuing 25-yard kickoff return and still been up five points. 

But the Cajuns did take a chance on third down, only to have a Lewis pass fall incomplete.

“We felt like if we could cash it in and win the game on third down the game would be over,” Napier said, “so we did that.”

When that failed?

“We had already made the decision that if we had got to fourth (down) and we weren’t going to go for it we would take the safety,” Napier said. “So, it was the right decision, given the history within the game – the conditions, the snapper issues we had.

“We certainly wanted to take it out of (Boudreaux’s) hands and kick the ball off and play defense. … It was a tough environment for specialists in general – their specialists, our specialists. I think maybe you’d have to be sitting in there … (to) understand what we’re talking about.”

More:ESPN’s David Pollack picks Appalachian State vs. No. 21 Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns

Cajuns coach believed in his defense

Bottom line: Napier put more trust in his defense than his snapper, and his offense, and it worked.

Punting made no sense to him.  

“With the returner they do have,” Napier said, “we’re looking at about the same field position. … Let’s just say we net 35 yards on the punt, OK? Then where do they get the ball? About the 40-yard line, 45-yard line, right?

“So we if took the safety, and then we kick the ball off, and we burn more time, then they’ve got the ball in about the same place. So I think the risk-reward was one that I think we made the right decision.”

So does linebacker Chauncey Manac, who was happy Napier put it on the defense.

“When you get an opportunity like that you don’t want it to go to waste,” Manac said

On the sideline, at least one member of the Cajun offense was confident the UL defense would get the job done.

“There wasn’t sweating anything,” said running back Trey Ragas, who ran for two touchdowns and caught apass for another. “It was real cold. Real freezing.”.

More:All seriousness aside, UL special teams coach Discher can have fun too

Napier sticking by his snapper

Boudreaux’s usual backup, incidentally, is a true freshman, Alexander Morrison. But his backup Friday on a limited travel roster was reserve linebacker Troy Kruchten.

Napier suggested he never considered using anyone besides Boudreaux, though, and that the snapper will be back when UL visits No. 14 Coastal Carolina for the Dec. 19 Sun Belt championship game.

“There’s not a confidence issue in Paul,” he said. “Just he’s got to do his job better.

“The big thing I would say about Paul Boudreaux is he has been lights out. You know, this is an all-conference caliber player. The guy is dependable, consistent, loved by his teammates, takes tremendous pride in his job.

“I’m happy and thankful we found a way to win the game – just for him, you know?”

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