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Football: Ragin' Cajuns Claim Wild 51-48 Win Over SLU In Season Opener
Calais sets school-record with two kickoff returns for TDs
LAFAYETTE – Raymond Calais set a school-record with a pair of kickoff returns for touchdowns and freshman Elijah Mitchell scored on a go-ahead 2-yard touchdown with 8:41 remaining as the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns earned a 51-48 shootout victory over Southeastern Louisiana in the season-opener on Saturday at Cajun Field.
Jordan Davis completed 12 of 23 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown in his first career start while freshman Trey Ragas scored on a 54-yard run in the first quarter as Louisiana (1-0) scored its most points in a season-opener in the modern era.
In the first meeting between Louisiana and SLU (0-1) since 1981, both teams quickly made up for lost time with a combined six touchdowns in the first quarter, including kickoff returns of 97 and 100 yards by Calais and a 54-yard run by Ragas.
SLU answered Calais' kick return to open the game by driving 68 yards in seven plays with Eugene Bethea capping the drive with a 42-yard TD run. The Lions took their first lead of the night after forcing the Cajuns to punt with Max Lyons returning a punt return 60 yards for a TD.
Bethea added a 1-yard TD run with 3:09 remaining in the first quarter that gave SLU a 21-14 lead before Calais scored his second TD of the night with a 100-yard return, tying Darryl Surgent (2013 vs. Kansas State) and Jeryl Brazil (2015 vs. Texas State) for the longest return in school history.
Davis tossed a 15-yard TD pass to Ryheem Malone to give Louisiana a 28-21 lead with 13:47 remaining in the second quarter with Dion Ray adding a 1-yard TD run for a 35-28 lead with 10:01 remaining.
Jordan Wright capped a 10-play drive for the Ragin' Cajuns with a 3-yard TD run in the third quarter before Mitchell's first career TD gave Louisiana a 49-42 lead with 8:41 remaining.
After Sam Geraci's punt was downed at the SLU 5 with 3:16 remaining, SLU drove 95 yards in 10 plays with Lorenzo Nunez hitting Nih-jer Jackson on a 29-yard TD pass with :42 seconds remaining. The Lions attempted a potential go-ahead two-point conversion, but Nunez was flushed from the pocket, fumbled and Joe Dillon scooped up the miscue and scored on a defensive PAT to seal the win.
Tracy Walker recorded 10 tackles to lead Louisiana with T.J. Posey adding eight. Dillon added a sack for the Ragin' Cajuns with freshman Bralen Trahan picking off a Nunez pass for his first career interception.
Bethea rushed for 187 yards and two touchdowns for SLU, which gained 343 yards on the ground and controlled the football for 34 minutes. Nunez completed 15 of 25 passes for 171 yards for the Lions with Juwan Dickey catching eight passes for 99 yards.
Louisiana will return to action on Saturday (Sept. 9) when it visits American Athletic Conference member Tulsa in a 3 p.m. contest.
HEAD COACH MARK HUDSPETH QUOTES
"What a college football game. I was watching some games today, and I said that I hope I'm never in a game like that one and there we were in the type of game I saw on TV. Heading into the season we had some things that we wanted to address and do a much better job at. The first was scoring points, and I think we did that. Another was getting better at the return game, and again I think we did that as well. We continued to do a good job protecting the ball. One thing we didn't do a good job at was our punt team. Early in the game we gave up two big returns and pretty much gave them 14 points.
We needed to find out about some new players, and we did. I felt Elijah Mitchell had a good game for us. At times, I thought, that Jordan Davis looked effective. I saw a couple of drops but he also had some nice deep balls to Ryheem Malone and Keenan Barnes had a big run off a pass to the 1-yard line that set us up for a touchdown.
I thought that our offensive line got a great push up front and I thought they sort of wore them down late. Travis Crawford wasn't 100 percent healthy so he didn't play very much. But I think we saw the difference in the second half when Tracy Walker came in and was roaming the secondary and we limited them to 10 points in the half.
We played with a lot of new guys in the secondary. We had a lot of first timers out on defense and I'm sure they'll improve each week going forward. Our kick and punt return teams I thought were great but we just need to improve the punt team.
I thought their kids played hard and I've got to give them credit. They've got a great football team and I think that team will do well in the Southland Conference. I'm proud our kids found a way and got the win. Our condition needs work and I thought that the humidity affected us and we played more people than I would've liked to play. I'm glad to get the win in a great environment."
On Southeastern Louisiana Going for Two:
"That was a slam dunk for them to go for two on the road at that time in the game. I was not surprised and knew they would go for two right away. As for our defensive scheme on the play, we played our goal line defense. I thought that we played it well and stayed in position."
On Defensive Adjustment in the Second Half:
"(Tracy) Walker being on the field helped a lot. We also tackled much better in the half. At halftime we adjusted our stunts up front to make sure that we could fill the gaps in the half."
On Jordan Davis:
"For it being his first day on the job, he showed some flashes of having some nice ability. He threw some good balls, but he also threw some in the dirt that were ones he needed to make to keep the sticks moving and keep us in third and short. We can't take those short throws for granted. But he made some great deep throws and there was only one drop. He had some nice runs as well, he got his feet wet and was baptized under fire tonight. We'll see him improve each week going forward."
On Big Fake Out Play:
"That was our normal zone read that we run. But because they blitzed off the end and focused on the running back there wasn't anyone out there and he made a great run. (Jordan) Davis is an effective kid...he just needs to play within himself. I thought early in the game he made some critical mistakes and made some rookie mistakes, but he got better as the game was going along. He really settled down and so did our defense."
On Things to Improve on For Next Week:
"Defensively, we need go back and see the tape. We were over pursing and they were cutting back behind us. We need to make sure that we're staying at home, even though we were flying to the ball we were out of position and we need to work on that."
On the Returns:
"Our guys just got hats on people and if you can make blocks in space you're going to get things done. Our guys got great positions on their blocks and (Raymond) Calais really hit it. That's what makes a great returner – when he can hit it like that. And that's one thing that makes him effective."
On Punt and Kick Return Coverage:
"The punt direction needs to be fixed. That was one critical thing we need to improve on. But I thought that's one thing that Sam Geraci got better at that as the game went along."
On Giving Personal Tickets to Families Effected by Hurricane Harvey:
"The least we can do is to help anyone misplaced by the Hurricane. I'm just proud that we could give them a few hours where they could forget about the troubles that they're dealing with. We're all in this together. People have always stepped up for us when we were effected in previous events."
Game Notes (LA v SLU Sep. 2, 2017)
• The 99 combined points scored between the two teams are the most points scored in a regulation game in Cajuns football history (previous game was a 55-40 win vs. Arkansas State on Oct. 21, 2014)
• The 35 points in the first half are more points than the Cajuns scored in any regulation game during the entire 2016 season
• At the 12:53 mark in the second quarter the 28-28 the 56 combined points were already the most in the SLU vs. UL game series
• Jordan Davis' touchdown pass in the second quarter was his first passing TD since the 2015 season (vs. Troy Dec. 5, 2015)
• Trey Ragas' 54-yard touchdown run in the first quarter was the first of his career after missing 2016 with an injury
• Elijah Mitchell's touchdown run in the fourth quarter was the first of his career
• Bralen Trahan's interception in the second quarter was the first of his career;
• Joe Dillon, as the returning leader in sacks from the 2016 season, recorded his first sack of the season in the first quarter
• Tracy Walker led team with 10 tackles and two pass break-ups
• Trev Miller's fumble recovery in the second quarter was the second of his career (first was a scoop and score at ULM on Dec. 3, 2016)
• Raymond Calais returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in the first quarter, the first went 97 yards (97 yards ties him for fourth all-time; Darryl Surgent vs. Oklahoma State on Oct. 8, 2010; Jason Chery at North Texas Oct. 11, 2008)
• Calais' 100-yard return tied a school record joining Jeryl Brazil (vs. Texas State, Oct. 10, 2015) and Darryl Surgent (at Kansas State, Sept. 7, 2013)
• Calais' first return (97 yards) was the first kickoff return by a Cajun since Brazil (vs. Texas State, Oct. 10, 2015)
• The two returns by Calais is the 19th time in FBS history that two kickoffs were returned for touchdowns in the same game (the last being on Oct. 5, 2013 by Texas State vs Louisiana)
• Southeastern Louisiana's Max Lyons' punt return in first half was the first time an opponent has returned a punt for a touchdown since Georgia's Ishiah McKenzie (Nov. 19, 2016).
• Louisiana called heads won the toss (Receives the ball); 1-0 on coin tossing 2017
• First meeting between the two schools since 1981; Louisiana improved to 20-17-3 in the series
• Cajuns are 13-4 all-time in the Herbert Heymann Football Classic and the Cajuns are 5-1 in the past six Classics
• The 51 points scored by Louisiana were the most scored in a season-opener in the modern era.
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