By Tim Gardner
Louisiana-Lafayette beat Appalachian State for a second time during the 2021 season Saturday-both on the former’s home field-and the latter in the Sun Belt Conference Championship game by a 24-16 tally.
The Mountaineers (10-3), who won the Sun Belt’s East Division, will learn their bowl destination Sunday. Appalachian State has won bowl games in all six of its seasons since moving to the Football Bowl Subdivision (Major Level).
This also marks the fifth time in seven seasons that the Mountaineers have won 10 or more games.
The Ragin’ Cajuns (12-1) have won 12 straight since a season-opening loss to Texas, including an October 12 win (41-13) over Appalachian State.
Quarterback Chase Brice threw a pass to wide receiver Thomas Hennigan, who made a leaping catch and broke loose of four defenders to get the ball into the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-10 play to pull the Mountaineers with 24-16 with 5:06 remaining.
The touchdown capped an 83-yard drive. But it followed with a failed two-point conversion as Louisiana-Lafayette defensive lineman Andre Jones sacked Brice.
The Ragin’ Cajuns held onto the ball after the kickoff to almost the end of the game. They forced Appalachian State to use all of its timeouts while eating up the game clock to just 29 seconds left when stopped on fourth down at the Appalachian State 35-yard line. Then an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Louisiana-Lafayette gave the Mountaineers the ball at midfield. But edge rusher Chauncey Manac stripped the ball from Brice as he was about to throw and recovered the fumble to give the Ragin’ Cajuns the ball back to run out the game clock and seal the victory
Louisiana-Lafayette’s defense held the Mountaineers even under its stellar season averages in yards and points allowed. Entering the game, Louisiana-Lafayette ranked 32nd in FBS with 342.3 yards allowed per game, and the Ragin’ Cajuns were Number 13 in scoring defense, yielding 18.5 points per game. The Mountaineers compiled 296 yards of total offense.
Chandler Staton’s 36-yard field goal with 6:54 to play in the third quarter got Appalachian State within 17-10. But Emani Bailey dashed 35 yards for a touchdown with 12:14 to go in the game and Nate Snyder kicked the extra point to put the Number 20-ranked Ragin’ Cajuns up 24-10.
Quarterback Levi Lewis threw for one touchdown and ran for another in the first half at Cajun Field as Louisiana-Lafayette built a 17-7 cushion. Lewis tossed a 7-yard touchdown pass to Michael Jefferson and Snyder kicked the point-after for a 7-0 lead. Then Lewis raced 56 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter. Snyder again made the extra point kick as the Ragin’ Cajuns led 14-0.
Camerun Peoples darted 43-yards for a touchdown with 2:38 left in the first half and Staton made the point-after kick to get Appalachian State within 14-7. But Snyder nailed a 33-yard field with one second left before halftime to provide the 17-7 score.
Lewis passed for 210 yards without a turnover and finished with 43 net yards rushing.
It was the final game as head coach of the Ragin’ Cajuns for Billy Napier, who will take over as the new head coach at the University of Florida.
App State Falls to Louisiana In SBC Title Matchup of Double-Digit Winners
From App State Sports
Playing in the third Sun Belt Championship Game, App State made a push for a third title before 20th-ranked Louisiana finished off a breakthrough victory.
The Mountaineers trailed by seven points entering the fourth quarter and closed to within eight on Chase Brice’s 24-yard touchdown pass to Thomas Hennigan with 5:06 left, but the Ragin’ Cajuns milked most of the remaining time and posted a 24-16 victory in front of 31,014 fans Cajun Field.
With a 10-win regular season — and playing Saturday in only the second game between two Sun Belt teams with double-digit victories — the Mountaineers (10-3) will learn their bowl destination Sunday. Since making its FBS debut in 2014, App State has earned a bowl berth in each of its seven postseason-eligible seasons and posted an FBS-best 6-0 bowl record.
Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year D’Marco Jackson had 11 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, one sack and four first-half quarterback hurries, and Nick Hampton’s four tackles included 2.5 tackles for loss and two first-half sacks. Kaiden Smith led the team with 12 tackles, Trey Cobb contributed nine and Demetrius Taylor added a sack.
Offensively, Camerun Peoples scored App State’s first touchdown on a 43-yard run late in the first half to highlight a 61-yard outing, and Chase Brice rushed for a season-high 52 yards, with his eight scrambles gaining 75 yards. Hennigan had a team-high 71 receiving yards.
App State faced a fourth-and-10 scenario from the Louisiana 24 when Brice avoided pressure and threw a pass over the middle to a leaping Hennigan, who then broke three tackles inside the 15 to reach the end zone on a reception for the 23rd time in his career.
A two-point pass failed, and Louisiana (12-1) registered three first downs on its final drive. A fourth-down pass from the App State 36 fell incomplete with 29 seconds left, but Louisiana clinched the win with a forced fumble on a sack near midfield with 20 seconds remaining.
Down by 10 at halftime, App State opened the third quarter with a 15-play drive that ended with a 36-yard field goal from Chandler Staton. Louisiana followed that with a 12-play drive and went for a first down on a fourth-and-2 play from the App State 20, but Jackson and Kaiden Smith stuffed a run for a 1-yard loss.
App State wasn’t able to put together a game-tying drive on its next two possessions, and Louisiana extended its lead to 24-10 early in the fourth quarter when Emani Bailey ran for a 35-yard touchdown on a third-and-8 play. Earlier in the drive, in a third-and-13 situation, Levi Lewis completed a 16-yard pass to the Louisiana 41.
The Mountaineers went into the break trailing 17-7, as Camerun Peoples used a block from tight end Henry Pearson to break loose for a 43-yard touchdown that cut App State’s deficit to 14-7 with 2:28 left in the first half.
App State forced a three-and-out punt and appeared to move into Louisiana territory on a Chase Brice scramble late in the half, but a holding penalty put the Mountaineers in a behind-the-chains position that led to the Ragin’ Cajuns using timeouts.
Gaining possession at its 46 with 32 seconds remaining before halftime, Louisiana completed a pass for 30 yards to reach field-goal range and then converted a 33-yard kick in the closing seconds of the half.
App State’s defense pressured Levi Lewis throughout the first half, as Hampton recorded two early sacks and Jackson had one sack to go along with four QB hurries, but Lewis’ nine completions on 18 attempts before the break gained 142 yards, and he added a 56-yard touchdown run.
Lewis avoided the heavy pursuit from Taylor to complete a fourth-and-3 pass for 10 yards on the opening drive, and Lewis sidestepped up-the-middle pressure from Jordon Earle on a 27-yard touchdown pass. A penalty for a lineman illegally downfield wiped out a 46-yard pass to Corey Sutton on App State’s second play from scrimmage.
Hampton and Jackson combined for three sacks over the next two Louisiana possessions, but Lewis’ long touchdown run with 9:22 left in the second quarter capped a seven-play, 92-yard drive and increased the margin to 14-0. App State answered with a six-play, 75-yard march.