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How Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns football pulled one out after giving it away at South Alabama

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Oct. 4, 2021

MOBILE, Ala.  – UL football got away with one Saturday night.

But the Ragin’ Cajuns did so only after almost giving it away.

UL (4-1, 2-0 Sun Belt Conference) beat South Alabama 28-18 at Hancock Whitney Stadium after the Jaguars (3-1, 0-1) missed a 37-yard field goal attempt with 59 seconds remaining.

“It ain’t pretty,” UL coach Billy Napier said, “but the Ragin’ Cajuns are finding ways to win.”

After missing two PATs earlier in the game, one that was blocked and another that hit the upright, South Alabama, down by two points at the time, went for it on fourth-and-1 from the 4-yard line with just more than six minutes remaining.

The Ragin’ Cajuns took over on downs after an incomplete pass to the end zone by former South Carolina and Utah quarterback Jake Bentley with 6:20 to go. But rather than keep it on the ground on a rainy evening in which it poured at times, and rather than try to run down the clock, Napier opted for pass play calls to move his offense.

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Cajuns wanted to pass

That actually was the plan from the outset, weather conditioning not withstanding.

“I felt like coming in we needed to throw it, just giving how they play,” Napier said.

But even when it was tight late quarterback Levi Lewis threw two incompletions before scrambling on third-and-10 for a 4-yard loss, forcing the Cajuns to punt and giving South Alabama, which had trailed 20-0 early, its last-gasp chance with 3:20 left.

UL had all sorts of success running the ball, controlling the line of scrimmage and reeling off one long run after another in the first half.

The Cajuns wound up with 225 rushing yards on 33 carries, including 81 yards and one touchdown on seven rushes from Emani Bailey. It translated to a  team average of 6.8 yards per carry, impressive especially considering the conditions.

But Napier, whose Cajuns missed two field goals and one PAT, took his chances by trying to move through the air late anyway.

“We got us in second-and-long quite a bit after we got going,” he said. “Once we got to 20 and missed the two field goals, then all of sudden it’s second-and-long every time I looked up.”

UL could not put it away

Afterward the Cajuns kicked themselves for failing to put the Jaguars away much earlier.

“I would say it was very frustrating,” Bailey said.

“You know, it’s stressful sometimes. And that’s the game of football. … Sometimes you have your ups and down, but at the end of the day when we come together and play as one and pull through.”

UL, which has won four straight, had a narrow win in its home opener against FCS Nicholls.

After a blowout non-conference win over Ohio of the MAC, the Cajuns opened Sun Belt play a close win at Georgia Southern. 

“So I’m proud of the kids,” said Napier, whose defense came up big time and time again, even after South Alabama rallied to make a game of it.

The Cajuns host Appalachian State next in a rare Tuesday night game on Oct. 12.

“You know, one thing about this team: There’s no lack of togetherness or toughness,,” Napier, who is 13-0 against Sun Belt West Division teams since he has been at UL.

"I think they play through the adversity. It’s almost like they expect to win. There’s poise, regardless of maybe where it’s headed or what people think is going on. They line up and play and find different ways to win.”