By Tim Gardner
In a pivotal Sun Belt Conference clash, Louisiana-Lafayette overcame four special teams miscues to beat Appalachian State 24-21 on a cold and rainy Friday night at Boone’s Kidd Brewer Stadium.
The Mountaineers’ Chandler Staton missed a 30-yard field goal with 2 seconds left to tie the score and likely send the game into overtime.
The Mountaineers are currently 7-3 overall and 5-2 in conference play. The game also marked Louisiana-Lafayette’s first win against the Mountaineers in nine tries–all while both schools have had membership in the Sun Belt Conference. Appalachian State beat the Ragin’ Cajuns in the last two conference championship games and in the same stadium.
Running back Trey Ragas scored three touchdowns, while running for 95 yards, and elusive quarterback Levi Lewis threw for 101 yards and a touchdown and ran for 77 yards to lead the Ragin’ Cajuns.
Louisiana-Lafayette (9-1 over-all; 7-1 conference) which is ranked No. 20 in the Associated Press (AP) Top 25 will play at Coastal Carolina in the Sun Belt Conference championship game on Dec. 19.
Sputtering offensively for much of the game, Appalachian State was limited to 290 yards by the Ragin’ Cajuns.
But long snapper Paul Boudreaux put Louisiana-Lafayette in a bind early, twice snapping more than 10 yards over the head of the punter in the first half and then sending a high snap to the holder on a failed extra point that helped Appalachian State hold a 10-9 halftime lead.
Still, the Ragin’ Cajuns surged ahead 24-10 after Ragas’ touchdown runs of 17 yards and 1 yard in the third period.
Appalachian State cut the lead to seven (24-17) on a touchdown run by Camerun Peoples with 8:07 left and the extra point kick by Staton.
Then Boudreaux’s bad luck continued when he sent another snap over the head of the punter, who chased it down and kicked it out of the back of the end zone for a safety with 6:36 left in the game. That gave the Mountaineers the ball back, down by only five points at 24-19.
But Ferrod Gardner and Chauncey Manac then combined to sack Appalachian State quarterback Zac Thomas on a fourth-and-9 play at the Louisiana- Lafayette 29.
The Ragin’ Cajuns next had a fourth-and-2. But instead of going for a first down — or risking another bad snap on a punt — Head Coach Billy Napier elected to have Lewis run the ball back out of the end zone for a safety, slicing his team’s lead to just three points, 24-21, with 1:46 remaining.
Appalachian State quickly moved into field goal range. Malik Williams returned the free kick 25 yards to the Appalachian State 45-yard line, Thomas Hennigan then gained 12 yards on a first-down pass reception, followed by Peoples running for a third-and-2 conversion. Next, a defensive pass interference penalty on a throw to the end zone from the 28 gave the Mountaineers a first down at the Louisiana-Lafayette 13 with 14 seconds remaining. Two passes to the end zone were incomplete, setting up Staton’s field goal attempt, which he hooked wide left.
Staton did make a 43-yard field goal in the game to become the Sun Belt Conference’s career scoring leader with 329 career points.
The Ragin’ Cajuns held Thomas to 92 yards passing and intercepted two of his passes. He entered the game with 30 career wins — second only to Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence among active college quarterbacks.
Trey Cobb led Appalachian State’s defense with nine tackles, Kaiden Smith added seven, Shemar-Jean Charles had two more Passes-Broken-Up (PBUs) to increase his season total to 16 and Shaun Jolly forced a fumble.
Appalachian State travels to long-time arch rival Georgia Southern next Saturday, Dec. 12, to play its regular season finale. The game will kick off at 6:00 p.m. and will be televised nationally on ESPN3.
For complete game stats of Appalachian State-Louisiana-Lafayette, log onto: https://appstatesports.com/documents/2020/12/5//APP10.pdf