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Football – No. 21 Louisiana’ Ragin’ Cajuns 24, Appalachian State 21: What we learned

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Dec. 4, 2020

Running back Trey Ragas ran for two touchdowns, caught a Levi Lewis pass for another and added a 2-point conversion run to lead No. 21 UL to a wild 24-21 win over Appalachian State on Friday.

The win was the first for UL in its seven-year series history with the Mountainers. 

Appalachian State struck first, getting a 33-yard Nate Noel touchdown run through a huge hole with just less than seven minutes left in the first quarter.

UL responded with 6:25 remaining second quarter as Lewis delivered an 8-yard touchdown throw to Ragas out of the backfield, but the Cajuns could not convert the PAT. A 26-yard Kenneth Almendares field goal with 26 seconds left before halftime cut the Mountaineers lead to 10-9.

The Cajuns went up midway through the third quarter with a 17-yard Ragas run, and the conversion run by Ragas made it 17-10 UL.

Ragas followed with his second TD, a 1-yard run, before the third quarter was done, but with less than seven minutes remaining an Appalachian State safety off an errant punt snap trimmed the Cajun advantage to 24-19.

A second safety, this one intentional as Lewis ran out of the end zone, made it 24-21 with 1:46 leff, bizzarely allowing App State a chance to force overtime with a field goal. But Chandler Staton’s field goal try with five seconds left missed wide left, and UL got away with one.

UL, coming off last Saturday’s 70-20 victory at UL Monroe, went into the game 0-8 all-time against App State, including four losses the last two seasons.

What we learned …

NFL prospect Trey Ragas has what it takes for the next level

Ragas, a senior NFL Draft prospect known for his bowling-ball running style, had to help himself in the ESPN-televised win.

The product of Archbishop Shaw High from New Orleans finished with XX yards on XX carries.

His fellow Cajuns running back, Elijah Mitchell, already has accepted a Senior Bowl invitation. After Friday, it may not be long before the 5-foot-10, 230-pound Ragas accepts an invite to a major postseason bowl game for NFL prospects too.

Trey Ragas:A look at the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns football running back

UL running back Trey Ragas, top, celebrates in the hands of Ragin' Cajuns offensive lineman Max Mitchell after running for a touchdown against Appalachian State on Friday night.

Snapping in the rain a major issue

With rain pouring down as expected, UL’s first two deliveries from Paul Boudreaux on Friday sailed past punter Rhys Byrns – proof that a wet ball is not a long snapper’s friend.

The Cajuns paid a price for it, too, as App State’s first touchdown came eight plays after one went sailing over the head of Byrns.

But that wasn’t the only high cost.

Boudreaux’s snap after Lewis’ TD throw to Ragas also was high, forcing holder Dalen Cambre to try a conversion throw to Almendares that fell incomplete.

When Boudreaux snapped another one through Cambre’s hands late in the first half, though, the Cajuns caught a break. Appalachian State called a timeout just beforehand, and the snap was perfect for Almendares’ field goal just before the break.

The snap was high again following the second Ragas TD run, but this time Cambre got it down for Almendares.

Then it only got worse: A third high snap on a punt got behind Byrns with 6:36 left and Byrns had to kick it out of the end zone, cutting the Cajun lead to five points.

Passing in the rain isn’t much easier

It wasn’t nearly as bad as UL vs. UL Monroe in 2016, when then-Cajuns quarterback Anthony Jennings threw for exactly zero yards – he finished 2 for 5 – in a driving rainstorm.

But it was apparent quickly that throwing in the rain would be no easy task for Lewis either on Friday.

Lewis opened 1-of-6 in the opening quarter, completing only a 25-yard pass to freshman Dontae Fleming.

UL’s defense can create turnovers

UL went into the game with 13 interceptions, tied for second-most nationally, and outside linebacker Chauney Manac added to the total with another as he rose high to pick off Zac Thomas in the second quarter.

It wasn’t the only first-half turnover the Cajun defense came up with. After linebacker Lorenzo McCaskill popped running back Cam Peoples, accompanied by Ferrod Gardner and Ja’Quane Nelson, defensive lineman Zi’Yon Hill scooped up the fumble near midfield to set up Ragas’ TD catch.

Cornerback Mekhi Garner had another Cajuns interception in the third quarter, giving UL 15 in 10 games. He also had a pick in an overtime win at Georgia State earlier this season.

Manac and Gardner also were in on a huge fourth-down sack that gave UL back back following the first safety, with just more than two minutes left.