MONROE, La. – CHAMPIONS!!
Louisiana Football (7-5, 5-3 SBC) won the Sun Belt Conference Western Division Championship with its Saturday afternoon 31-28 win over the ULM Warhawks (6-6, 4-4 SBC) at Malone Stadium, and the Ragin’ Cajuns will be heading to the inaugural Sun Belt Conference Championship Game
Louisiana’s defense came up big in the second half, causing two turnovers on back-to-back red zone visits by ULM to help secure the win. And sophomore running back Trey Ragas powered the Ragin’ Cajuns to victory, eclipsing 1,000 rushing yards on the season, finishing with a team-high 115 rushing yards on 23 carries.
Senior quarterback Andre Nunez tossed three touchdowns and finished 11-for-15 while senior wide receiver Ryheem Malone led Louisiana in the air with 91 yards on six receptions, catching one touchdown in the process.
HOW IT HAPPENED (First Half): Louisiana opened up the game, after taking the opening kick, by quickly driving down the field for an opening touchdown. The drive, which went 75 yards in four plays, was capped off by senior Ryheem Malone’s 40-yard touchdown reception from Nunez.
After holding ULM to a 6-play drive that only went 12 yards, Louisiana got the ball back and once again marched down the field, going 90 yards in 11 plays in just under six minutes, finished off by senior wide receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley’s 10th touchdown reception of the season, to quickly take a 14-0 lead over ULM with 4:41 left in the first quarter. ULM then began a scoring drive that began near the end of the first quarter and wrapped up in the early parts of the second quarter.
With only 35 seconds gone in the second quarter, ULM got on the board for the first time, when Austin Vaughn caught a 13-yard pass from Caleb Evans to put the score at 14-7. Keeping with the tone of the game, Louisiana answered right back, as Nunez continued his torrid start to the game, taking the Ragin’ Cajuns down the field once again and putting seven more points on the board.
Louisiana’s seven-play 65-yard drive was capped off with a six-yard pass to Ragas to extend Louisiana’s lead to 21-7. ULM answered the third scoring drive by Louisiana on its next drive, as the back-and-forth first half continued. The Warhawks went 54 yards in five plays to pull back within seven points of Louisiana.
On the next drive, and for the first time in the game, Louisiana failed to score a touchdown when its drive stalled at the ULM 22-yard line, but senior kicker Kyle Pfau nailed the 37-yard field goal to keep Louisiana on its scoring fix as the Ragin’ Cajuns went back up by 10 points, 24-14 with 4:22 to go in the half.
ULM then got a big play, and a momentum turner in the first half, when on Louisiana’s next drive Malone slipped and Nunez threw his first incompletion of the game, after starting 9-for-9. Unfortunately for Louisiana the pass went right to ULM’s Corey Straughter who returned the interception 66 yards for a touchdown, ending an exciting first half, with Louisiana still ahead 24-21.
HOW IT HAPPENED (Second Half): The Ragin’ Cajuns came out and held ULM to a three-and-out, the first of the game for either side. Louisiana then went 24 yards, but its drive stalled at the ULM 33-yard line and after Pfau missed a 50-yard field goal attempt, an eventful third quarter was underway.
ULM attempted to take the lead on the next drive and came within five yards of doing just that. But junior defensive back Michael Jacquet III made a play in the back of the endzone to end ULM’s drive when he picked off ULM’s Evans.
The crazy third quarter continued, when on Louisiana’s next drive, failed to get a first down on a fourth-and-short and gave the ball right back to ULM on its own 29-yard line. But once again the defense came up big, when senior linebacker Justin Middleton came from behind ULM’s Markis McCray to strip and recover a fumble to give Louisiana the ball right back at the Louisiana 21-yard line.
Lewis came in on the next drive and took the game into the final period, as he orchestrated a 79-yard 10-play scoring drive. The drive was finished off with a 40-yard toss by Lewis on a screen play to Mitchell, that Mitchell took to the endzone to put Louisiana back up by 10 points with the score sitting at 31-21 with 11:49 left in the game.
But the Warhawks would not go quietly, and with a 76-yard five-play drive that lasted only 1 minute and 37 seconds, ULM got within three points of Louisiana when Evans hit Marcus Green on a 30-yard to pass to make it 31-28 with 4:47 to go in the game. Louisiana then burned only 2 minutes and 40 seconds on the next drive before punting it away to ULM who got the ball with 2:07 on the clock.
The Warhawks then mounted a last-second drive, as they attempted to either take the lead or tie Louisiana in the final seconds. Start on its own 16-yard line, the Warhawks hit back-to-back 15-yard passes to get near the 50-yard line.
A 30-yard pass from Evans to R.J. Turner, got ULM inside-the-20-yard line with just under 30 seconds to go. Louisiana then defended a last ditch pass attempt by ULM into the corner of the endzone to set up a 36-yard field goal attempt by Craig Ford.
Ford’s kick sailed wide-right and Louisiana stormed the field to come away with a 31-28 win and punched its ticket to the Sun Belt Conference Championship Game.
– Coin Flip Winner:
– Louisiana won the toss and received the opening kick. Louisiana is now 6-6 on coin flips this season and has received the opening kick in for the last three games.
– Louisiana Heads To The Ship:
– With the win, Louisiana is heading to the inaugural Sun Belt Conference Championship Game to be played at Appalachian State (the Eastern Division Champions) on Saturday, Dec. 1.
– Ragas Hits 1,000:
– With a five-yard rush in the third quarter, Ragas surpassed 1,000 rushing yards in the season becoming the fifth-player to ever run for 1,000 yards on the season.
– It was the ninth-time in Louisiana history that at least one runner in the season reached 1,000 yards.
– Ragas becomes the eighth running back to run for 1,000 yards on the season in school history. And he becomes the 11th player to have hit the goal period in a single season.
– Six Times 100:
– Ragas finished with 115 rushing yards in the game to give him six 100-yard rushing games on the season.
– That ties a school record for 100-yard rushing games in a season, tying Tyrell Fenroy who hit the mark twice in 2006 and 2007.
– Scoring Fast:
– For the third time this season, the Ragin’ Cajuns opened the game by driving down and scoring a touchdown.
– It was also the second straight game, with Louisiana having opened up last week’s game against South Alabama by kicking a field goal on the opening drive.
– Bradley Catches A Record:
– Senior receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley tied a school record by grabbing his 10th touchdown reception of the season.
– The TD came in the first quarter on a 20-yard pass from Nunez.
– Nunez Starts Fast:
– Nunez began the game going 9-for-9, throwing for 133 yards and three touchdowns in the first half.
– Career/Game Highs:
– Malone’s 40-yard touchdown reception to open the scoring was the longest reception of the season for Malone and the longest scoring reception of Malone’s career.
– Middleton forced and recovered a fumble in the third quarter, it was the first time in his career that he has recovered and forced a fumble in a game.
– Senior linebacker Jacques Boudreaux finished with a career-high and game-high 11 tackles and had a sack on the game.
– Nunez threw for a game-high 148 and tossed three touchdowns going 11-for-15.
– Ragas finished with a game-high 115 yards rushing on 23 attempts.
– Malone snagged 91 yards in the air and one touchdown on six receptions.
UP NEXT: Louisiana will head to Appalachian State to play in the inaugural Sun Belt Conference Championship Game on Saturday, Dec. 1. The game, which will be televised on ESPN and broadcast on ESPN1420, will kick-off at 11 a.m. central time.
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