Louisiana Clinches Sun Belt West With 21-17 Win Against GA State
The Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns overcame a sluggish start to beat the Georgia State Panthers 21-17 and improve to 8-1 with their eighth straight victory.
With the win, Louisiana sealed up the Sun Belt West Division and will play in the Sun Belt Conference Championship Game on Saturday, Dec. 4.
Georgia State won the coin toss, so the Cajuns offense got the ball to start the game. On the first play of the game, quarterback Levi Lewis hit wide receiver Peter LeBlanc for a 35-yard gain into Panthers territory. Lewis and LeBlanc connected three times for 54 yards on the opening drive.
On fourth-and-four at the Georgia State eight yard-line, an incompletion ended a promising possession without a score.
The Panthers methodically went down the field on the Cajuns defense, gaining 71 yards in 11 plays, but they settled for a 39-yard field goal to take an early 3-0 lead.
Louisiana's second drive got to midfield, but an incompletion on third-and-seven forced the Cajuns to punt.
Georgia State's next drive ran out the rest of the clock in the first quarter. It was the third consecutive game where the Cajuns offense was held scoreless in the opening frame.
Louisiana's defense held the Panthers to a punt near midfield at the start of the second quarter. Their third drive started at their own eight yard-line. After gaining 31 yards, a failed third-down conversion forced another punt.
Georgia State's offense started rolling into Louisiana territory, but a sack on third down by linebacker AJ Riley wrecked the drive. A short 22-yard punt set the Cajuns offense up with good field position.
On third-and-11, Lewis connected with wide receiver Jalen Williams for the biggest gain of the first half, as he plowed into Panthers territory for a 51-yard gain. Running back Chris Smith gained eight yards to get Louisiana into the red zone for the second time. On fourth-and-two at Georgia State's six yard-line, the Cajuns once again went for it and failed to convert as Lewis got sacked.
The Panthers ran out the clock and went into halftime with a 3-0 lead. It was the first time that Louisiana was held scoreless in the first half this season.
A huge issue in the first half for the Cajuns was the rushing attack. Their usually strong unit only managed to gain 38 yards on 16 rushing attempts, averaging only 2.4 yards per carry. Freshman running back Montrell Johnson was their leading rusher with 21 yards on five carries.
Louisiana's defense started the second half by forcing a three-and-out. Eric Garror returned a punt for 70 yards and a touchdown but it was overturned due to a questionable block in the back penalty. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty tacked on afterwards turned a touchdown into a drive that started at their own 14 yard-line. The Cajuns ended up punting.
After the Cajuns defense forced another three-and-out, Lewis threw an interception for Louisiana's first turnover of the night.
Three plays later, Georgia State had the first touchdown of the game on a quick 37-yard completion. The score ballooned to 10-0 halfway through the third quarter.
The Cajuns offense finally woke up and drove back into the red zone for the third time in the game. On third-and-eight, Johnson ran for 14 yards to get to the three yard-line, but it was called back due to a holding. On fourth-and-four, Louisiana kept the offense on the field.
This time, Lewis connected with Leblanc for the ninth time in the game for a 14-yard touchdown to finally put the Cajuns on the board.
The defense gave up a first down, but a sack by Riley put the Panthers offense in an awkward position. On third-and-17, defensive lineman Andre Jones got the Cajuns second sack in three plays to force a punt.
A poor punt set the Louisiana offense up at midfield. Lewis took a shot on the first play of the possession, connecting with wide receiver Michael Jefferson for 31 yards for another trip to the red zone.
For the second consecutive drive, the Cajuns ended a red zone possession with a touchdown. This time, Johnson plunged in from three yards out to give Louisiana a 14-10 lead, their first of the night.
Georgia State responded with a huge drive where they converted their first three third downs. On fourth-and-one at the five, they got the first down. They wrapped up the 16-play, 75-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown rush. All 16 plays were runs on the drive, and they recaptured the lead, 17-14.
On third-and-five for the Cajuns, Johnson ran for 23 yards, by far the longest rush of the night for Louisiana.
Lewis then connected with tight end Neal Johnson for 20 yards, and they reached the red zone for the third straight drive. This time, Johnson ran in from 13 yards out for his second touchdown of the night to put the Cajuns in front 21-17 with just over two minutes left in the game.
Georgia State got to midfield on their final drive, and, on fourth-and-10, an incompletion forced a turnover on downs.
Johnson ran for a first down and the Cajuns held on to win 21-17.
Up next, the Cajuns start a road trip with their penultimate conference game at Troy against the Trojans on Saturday, Nov. 13 at 2:30 p.m.