Two touchdown passes from quarterback Levi Lewis in the third quarter and timely stops on the defensive side of the ball proved to be the difference for Louisiana, which held off Georgia Southern for a 28-20 victory in Statesboro on Saturday night.
With the victory, the Ragin’ Cajuns (3-1, 1-0 Sun Belt) improved to 3-1 in Sun Belt Conference openers under head coach Billy Napier, who also picked up his 20th league victory in the process.
Lewis finished the game 17-for-28 for 249 yards and three touchdowns, the sixth time in his career he has thrown for three or more touchdowns in a single game. Lewis accounted for 261 of Louisiana’s 378 yards of total offense after adding 12 yards rushing in the game.
Three different receivers caught a touchdown in the game, with Dontae Fleming who led all pass catchers with four receptions for 70 yards and a 46-yard score. Michael Jefferson and Georgia-native Johnny Lumpkin each hauled in touchdown passes of 48 yards and 22 yards, respectively.
Louisiana’s defense had another strong showing, holding Georgia Southern to 1-of-5 on fourth-down conversions, forcing two fumbles and picking off one pass.
Linebacker Ferrod Gardner led the way with 11 tackles, the fifth double-digit tackle performance of his career, and added 2.0 tackles-for-loss and a 0.5 sack. Fellow linebacker Lorenzo McCaskill was credited with seven tackles, 1.5 tackles-for-loss and a 0.5 sack as well.
Georgia Southern (1-3, 0-1 Sun Belt) scored the only points of the opening quarter, taking the ball 83 yards on its first position to set up an eight-yard run from Gerald Green to go ahead 7-0.
The Cajun offense responded in a big way early in the second quarter when Lewis dropped a 48-yard dime into the waiting arms of Jefferson, who walked into the end zone to tie the game up at seven points apiece.
Louisiana took its first lead of the night at 14-7 with 8:01 remaining in the first half when Emani Bailey, who finished the night with five carries for 38 yards, powered his way into the end zone from three-yards out.
Georgia Southern answered five minutes later with a touchdown, but defensive end Zi’Yon Hill blocked the extra point to preserve a 14-13 advantage.
The home team had a golden opportunity to take the lead with just three ticks showing on the clock, but Percy Butler, who added an interception in the game, rose above the line and blocked the 52-yard field goal attempt off the foot of Alex Raynor to keep the Ragin’ Cajuns lead intact going into halftime.
Lumpkin helped the visitors extend the lead in the third quarter, hauling in an acrobatic catch to push the lead to 21-13. Lewis made another dazzling throw moments later, hitting Fleming on a 46-yard pass to push the score to 28-20.
Georgia Southern did not go away and cut the lead to 28-20 1:34 into the final period when Green scored his third touchdown of the evening, a 76-yard rush down the home sideline.
That score proved to be the last of the game after the Ragin’ Cajuns defense locked things down and secured a pivotal stop to improve the team to 1-0 in league play.
Louisiana continues Sun Belt play on the road on Saturday, Oct. 2, when it travels to Mobile, Ala., to take on the South Alabama Jaguars. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. and will be broadcast live on ESPN+
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