Louisiana wins 1st outright conference championship in front of championship record 31,014 at Cajun Field

Published 11:53 am Monday, December 6, 2021

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In Billy Napier’s final game as the head coach of the Ragin’ Cajuns, Louisiana did something it had never done before—secured an outright Sun Belt Conference championship in front of a championship game record 31,014 fans at Cajun Field.

The Ragin’ Cajuns never trailed, as they earned their third-straight victory over App State—and their second of the season—24-16. The win was the 12th-straight and 12th of the year for Louisiana, both program records.

Louisiana senior quarterback Levi Lewis, who accounted for a pair of touchdowns, was named the Hercules Tires Sun Belt Football Championship Game Most Valuable Player.

Louisiana used a nine-play, 75-yard opening drive—punctuated by a 27-yard touchdown pass from Lewis to junior wide receiver Michael Jefferson—to jump out to a 7-0 advantage.

A 56-yard touchdown run by Lewis on a quarterback option with 9:22 to play in the 2nd quarter—the longest rush of his collegiate career and the longest in Sun Belt Football Championship Game history—pushed the Louisiana lead to 14-0.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Ragin’ Cajuns unit recorded four-straight stops to start the game, before junior running back Camerun Peoples got App State on the board with a 43-yard rushing touchdown with 2:38 to play in the second quarter. Peoples’ run capped a six-play, 75-yard drive for the Mountaineers.

Louisiana got the ball back with less than a minute to play in the half and marched 38 yards on five plays to set up a 33-yard field goal by redshirt senior kicker Nate Snyder.

A methodical 15-play, 56-yard drive opened the second half for App State and concluded with a 36-yard field goal by super senior kicker Chandler Staton, tying the school record for field goals in a season with 19 and cutting the lead to one-possession, 17-10.

On the ensuing drive, Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year App State senior linebacker D’Marco Jackson and super senior defensive back Kaiden Smith stood up Sun Belt Freshman of the Year Louisiana running back Montrell Johnson on a 4th-and-2 attempt on the Mountaineer 20-yard line, forcing a key turnover on downs to keep it a one-possession game entering the fourth quarter.

That changed just 2:36 into the final stanza, when Louisiana freshman running back Emani Bailey broke free for a 35-yard touchdown run to make it 24-10 for the Ragin’ Cajuns.

On 4th-and-10 on the Louisiana 24-yard line, App State graduate student quarterback Chase Brice connected with super senior wide receiver Thomas Hennigan, who dove into the endzone for an App State score with 5:06 remaining. The touchdown cut the lead to 24-16 and a failed two-point conversion attempt kept the margin at eight points.

After Louisiana failed to convert a 4th-and-6 on the App State 35-yard line with 29 seconds to play, the Mountaineers had one last opportunity to tie the game. Instead, the Ragin’ Cajuns defense recorded back-to-back sacks of Brice. The second was a strip sack, with redshirt senior linebacker Chauncey Manac getting credit for the sack, the forced fumble and the fumble recovery that sealed the win for the Ragin’ Cajuns.

Bailey tallied 130 yards of total offense—117 rushing and 13 receiving—and a touchdown in the victory, while Manac led the way defensively with six tackles, 2.5 TFLs, two quarterback hurries, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Redshirt junior defensive lineman Zi’Yon Hill also added a pair of sacks for the Ragin’ Cajuns.

Jackson headlined the App State’s contributors with 11 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, four quarterback hurries and a sack in the losing effort. Peoples—61 rushing yards and a touchdown—and Hennigan—71 receiving yards and a touchdown—did the scoring for the Mountaineers.

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