For only the second time in program history, the University of Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns defeated a team ranked in The Associated Press Top 25.
Led by a pair of touchdown returns and a stout defense, Louisiana defeated No. 23-ranked Iowa State 24-14 in the season opener for both programs. The victory over the Cyclones was the second win over a Top 25 team (joining the famed 29-22 win over No. 25 Texas A&M in 1996) in program history. It is also the first road win over a Top 25 team in program history.
How It Happened:
After punting on their first two possessions, the Ragin’ Cajuns started executing on offense and got a spark when the defense forced a turnover. Louisiana linebacker and former Acadiana High star Jourdan Quibodeaux stipped the ball out of Iowa State running back Breece Hall’s hands and Cajuns safety Percy Butler recovered the loose ball. That gave the Cajuns the ball at the Cyclones’ 42-yard line.
The Cajuns offense went 48 yards on 13 plays, highlighted by a 17-pass from Levi Lewis to Elijah Mitchell, and appeared ready to score the first points of the game early in the second quarter. The drive though stalled near the goal line.
With the ball on the seven-yard line, the Cajuns called an in-around which resulted in a seven-yard loss. After a four-yard run by Mitchell, Nate Synder came out to kick a 27-yard field goal but his attempt went wide right.
Iowa State took the first lead of the game with an 8-play, 49-yard scoring drive which was capped with a one-yard touchdown run by Kene Nwangwu. The extra point was good and the Cyclones led 7-0 with 4:28 to go in the first half.
Louisiana only needed a few seconds to tie the game as running back Chris Smith took the ensuing kickoff down the left sideline for a 95-yard touchdown return.
Iowa State responded with a 7-play, 69-yard drive as Brock Purdy completed back-to-back passes for 15 and 16 yards to set up an 11-yard touchdown run by Hall.
Trailing by a touchdown and only 1:17 left on the clock, Louisiana started their final drive of the first half from their own 28-yard line. Lewis though managed to guide the Ragin’ Cajuns down the field. After an illegal forward pass was called on Lewis, the Cajuns brought out Synder who this time drilled the 30-yard field goal as time expired. At the break, Iowa State led the Louisiana 14-10.
The Ragin’ Cajuns defense did its job in the third quarter.
Louisiana forced a turnover on downs on the Cyclones’ opening drive of the second drive as Asjilin Washington batted down a pass from Purdy on fourth down. Louisiana was unable to capitalize and forced to punt. The Cajuns’ defense though answered the call again as Washington picked off Purdy by taking the ball out of the hands of Iowa State’s Xavier Hutchinson along the sideline and gave the offense the ball at the 12-yard line.
After a two-yard run by Smith, Lewis’ pass attempt to Jalen Williams was incomplete and then a pass completed to Peter LeBlanc went for no yards. The Cajuns had to settle for a 30-yard field by Synder came out and missed the kick.
The Cajuns defense stepped up yet again forcing a three-and-out and this time the offense seized control. The first play of the ensuing possession, Lewis hit former Catholic High of New Iberia star Peter LeBlanc in stride for a 78-yard touchdown. The extra point by Kenneth Almendares was good and the Cajuns held a 17-14 lead.
After Louisiana’s defense forced another punt, the Cajuns return specialists struck once more.
Eric Garror took the punt from Joe Rivera and returned it 83 yards for the touchdown. The extra point by Almendares was good and the Louisiana held a 24-14 lead in the fourth quarter.
The Cajuns defense would force another turnover-on-downs and punt before putting together the game-sealing 11-play, 56-yard drive which was capped by a 2-yard touchdown run by Trey Ragas. The drive also ate 7:01 off the clock to seal the win.
Big Number: 2
The Ragin’ Cajuns scored two touchdowns on special teams as Chris Smith returned a kickoff back 95 yards and Eric Garror took a punt back 83 yards. Those two scores played a huge role in the victory.
Big Number II: 0
After giving up 14 points in the first half to the Cyclones’ vaunted offense, the Ragin’ Cajuns defense shut out the opposition in the second half.
Players of the Game: Asjlin Washington, Chris Smith & Eric Garror
Washington came up big with a pair of plays that kept the Cajuns in the game when the offense was struggling. The Louisiana cornerback batted down a ball on fourth down and then later intercepted a ball along the sideline. Smith and Garror meanwhile put points on the board with their 95-yard kickoff return touchdown and 83-yard punt return touchdown.
Next Up: Louisiana (1-0) will travel to Atlanta and face Georgia State on Saturday in the Sun Belt Conference opener for both teams. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m.