It felt much more like the first game of the year than an early December game at Cajun Field in Lafayette, Louisiana, when the Appalachian State Mountaineers visited Louisiana Lafayette in the Sun Belt Championship. After last year’s Sun Belt Championship was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns, this year’s game was full of anticipation and excitement.
Led by senior quarterback, Levi Lewis, the Ragin’ Cajuns struck early and never looked back, beating the Mountaineers 24-16.
With 9:55 in the first quarter, Lewis completed a 27-yard touchdown pass to the junior wideout, Michael Jefferson. Jefferson, a transfer from Alabama State, has only four touchdowns this season. Minutes later, Lewis broke free for a 56-yard run to give the Cajuns a 14-0 lead.
Down by 14 and struggling to get the ball moving on offense, Appalachian State turned to star running back Camerun Peoples who responded with a 43-yard run. Peoples, a native of Lineville, Alabama, has led the team in rushing for the past two seasons. With seconds to go in the second quarter, Nate Snyder kicked a 33-yard field goal to make the score 17-7 at halftime.
While the first half was full of offensive action, both defenses dominated the second half. In the third quarter, Appalachian State kicker Chandler Staton nailed a 36-yard field goal, but neither offense was able to do much else.
Early in the fourth quarter, Louisiana rusher, Emani Bailey scored a thrilling 35-yard run giving UL a 24-10 lead. With five minutes left, Appalachian State looked out of gas until Greensboro native, Thomas Hennigan took control of the offense and converted on fourth down to get the Mountaineers back in the game.
After a bizarre failed two-point conversion attempt, Appalachian State quickly forced Louisiana to punt. With minutes left, the Mountaineers, who had struggled throughout the game, had a glimmer of hope.
In an emotional rollercoaster of an ending, the Cajun defense was able to force App. State quarterback Chase Brice fumbled giving Louisiana their first outright Sun Belt Championship. Copeland Petitfils, a lifelong Cajuns fan, and son of a former football player, described the moment as surreal. “We’ve been waiting for this very moment for a long time. It’s incredible.”
For the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns, Saturday was a bittersweet moment. It was the first time that Louisiana had ever won an outright Sun Belt Championship, but it was the last game with their head coach, Billy Napier.
On November 28, Billy Napier announced that he was leaving the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to fill the coaching vacancy at the University of Florida. Florida fired head coach Dan Mullen after poor performances against LSU, South Carolina, Samford, and Missouri.
As Napier addressed Florida fans after the game, he said, “We’re going to build the best football team in the SEC conference. We’re going to build the best football program in the SEC conference. We must have a championship approach in everything that we do to accomplish this goal.” Napier led Louisiana to four straight winning seasons.
Louisiana will promote former quarterback and co-offensive coordinator, Michael Desormeaux as the new head coach. The Ragin’ Cajuns will take on Marshall in the New Orleans Bowl in Desormeaux’s first game as a head coach.