After a turnover by UTSA QB Frank Harris early in the third quarter, it felt like a win for the Louisiana Ragin Cajuns was all but secured. The Roadrunners fought back down the stretch and managed to tie things up in the fourth quarter but it wasn’t enough with a methodical drive on offense sealing the deal for Billy Napier’s Cajuns in a 31-24 victory in the First Responder Bowl.
How It Happened:
The 19th-ranked Cajuns came out the gates with some aggressive play-calling and it paid off on 4th and 4 with Levi Lewis finding Kyren Lacy for a 15-yard pass. Lewis followed that up on the next play with a pass to Jalen Williams for the score, going up 7-0.
The Roadrunners were cooking on a drive that was highlighted by Frank Harris finding Zakhari Franklin for a 21-yard pass to get into Louisiana territory, but Percy Butler came up with an interception a few plays later to kill the drive. The Cajuns got cooking with Lewis connecting with Chris Smith on a wheel route to get into Roadrunner territory, but they struggled in the redzone and a fake-field goal attempt resulted in zero points off of an early turnover.
UTSA took over after the botched fake attempt and marched down the field on a 13-play drive, but their efforts weren’t rewarded with a field goal from Hunter Duplessis went wide right. The Cajuns had things cooking with an 11-play drive but a dropped pass from Neal Johnson forced Kenny Almendaras to drill a 31-yard field goal to go up 10-0 with 8:27 untl halftime.
The Roadrunners run game came alive on their third drive of the contest with Harris keeping them going with an eight-yard run on a third-and-four and got UTSA on the board with an 11-yard run, cutting the lead to three. Louisiana was able to respond on the next drive to build momentum heading into the half thanks to a pair of good passes to Calif Gossett and the TD pass to Thibodeaux product Kyren Lacy to go up 17-7.
The Cajuns defense came up big to start the second half, capitalizing on a botched snap and backwards pass with Ferrod Gardner recovering the football inside the five-yard line. It just took one play and Elijah Mitchell walked in for the score to make it 24-7.
After forcing another punt on defense, the Cajuns turned over the football with De’Marco Guidry popped the ball out of Trey Ragas’ arm which was recovered by Trevor Harmanson, giving UTSA good field position and resulted in a 29-yard touchdown pass to Franklin to make it a ten-point ballgame. After a punt by Rhys Byrns, Harris put together a quick drive that was highlighted by a 52-yard pass to Franklin and the Roadrunners got within three points with a touchdown pass to Joshua Cephus.
The Cajuns offense continued to struggle in the third quarter, punting again and Duplessis redeemed himself from his earlier miss with a 20-yard field goal to even things up at 24.
Louisiana responded with a 12-play drive that ate up six minutes off the clock, ending with a one-yard run from Trey Ragas to take a 31-24 lead with 7:16 left in regulation. The Roadrunners weren’t about to go away quietly, getting into enemy territory, but a pair of incomplete passes to Franklin sealed the Cajuns 10th win of the season.
Big Numbers: 10 & 84
The Cajuns had a lot of dirty laundry on the field with 10 penalties for 84 yards. If this were any other game, that could have cost them big time, but key plays from the defensive side of the football sealed the deal.
Player of the Game: Elijah Mitchell
The Erath native went off and may have improved his draft stock, rushing for 127 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown. Mitchell was also solid in the receiving game with two catches for 45 yards and really was the straw that stirred the drink offensively.