Louisiana Wins the Sun Belt Conference Championship
The Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns won their first outright Sun Belt Conference Championship Title with a 24-16 victory at Cajun Field over the Appalachian State Mountaineers.
There's no dispute this year. The Ragin' Cajuns are the kings of the Sun Belt Conference. Louisiana finished the season with a record 12 straight wins. Head coach Billy Napier finished his career with the Ragin' Cajuns by fulfilling his promise of bringing the program their first conference championship in over 50 years.
Quarterback Levi Lewis was named the Most Valuable Player of the Conference Championship Game.
"This is for Cajun Nation," Lewis said. "It means the world to come back and finish our business, and we finished our business."
The best coach in the program's history gave love to his championship-winning team.
"I think that this team played in a way that reflects this community," Napier said. "They did it on the field and off the field. They did it with class, character, and integrity. We won a conference championship for this community, this university, and everyone in Louisiana that loves the Ragin' Cajuns."
"What a journey," Napier said. "We started four years ago and here we are."
App State won the coin toss and Louisiana received the opening kickoff. The Cajuns got the championship game started off right, using a big 35-yard completion from Lewis to wide receiver Peter Leblanc to get into Mountaineer territory.
On fourth-and-three at App State's 30, Napier went for it, and Lewis completed a first down to wide receiver Dontae Fleming. Two plays later, Lewis hit wide receiver Michael Jefferson for a 27-yard touchdown, taking an early 7-0 lead.
A sack by defensive lineman Zi'Yon Hill wrecked App State's first drive and they went three-and-out, but the Cajuns quickly punted afterwards.
The Mountaineers had a six-play drive that reached near midfield, but an incompletion on third-and-11 forced them to punt again. The punt pinned the Cajuns deep at their own 12. They gained a first down but penalties and a sack ruined the drive and Louisiana punted.
The Cajuns defense continued flexing their muscles in the first half, forcing another three-and-out.
Louisiana started their next drive at their own eight yard-line, but a few chunk plays got them near midfield. This set up the best play of the first half when Lewis turned on the afterburners on a career-long 56-yard touchdown run. Louisiana took a 14-0 lead in the second quarter.
App State earned one first down before two incompletions and a tackle for loss by linebacker Chauncey Manac forced them to punt for the fourth time in as many drives.
After the Cajuns punted, App State converted their first third down of the game on a quarterback scramble. A completion gave them another first down, and the Mountaineers finally had a good drive going against Louisiana's defense. This time, a 43-yard touchdown run cut the lead in half with two minutes left before halftime.
Needing an answer, Louisiana only gained two yards in three plays and punted. App State had one more chance in the first half. Instead, the Cajuns defense stood tall and forced another Mountaineer punt.
With 32 seconds remaining before the break, the Cajuns attempted to steal points. A 30-yard completion to Leblanc got them to App State's 24.
With six seconds remaining, Napier sent out kicker Nate Snyder to attempt a 33-yard field goal which he nailed. The Cajuns took a 17-7 lead at halftime.
App State started with the ball in the second half. Converting two third downs, they rode a drive into Louisiana territory. The Mountaineers only had one third down conversion in the first half. Right after converting a fourth down, linebacker Ferrod Gardner forced a fumble that safety Percy Butler recovered, but it was overturned on replay review. App State elected to attempt a field goal at the end of the 15-play, 57-yard drive, and they hit it to get within seven points at 17-10.
The next possession for Louisiana was the Emani Bailey drive. The running back started rolling with runs of 15 and 10 yards back-to-back. On third-and-seven near midfield, Bailey came down with a diving catch for a first down.
After an incompletion, Bailey rumbled for 13 more yards. On fourth-and-two at the Mountaineers 20, running back Montrell Johnson was stuffed and the Cajuns came away empty and turned the ball over on downs.
Louisiana's defense answered by forcing three straight completions. The Mountaineers punted.
A missed facemask call on a sack took Lewis' helmet off, and backup quarterback Chandler Fields threw an incompletion on third-and-15. On the ensuing punt, App State plowed into punter Rhys Byrns, but instead of a personal foul and a first down, it was a five yard penalty. The Mountaineers took over.
The Cajuns defense once again forced a three-and-out.
A big completion from Lewis to Errol Rogers Jr. on third-and-13 gave the Cajuns a first down. On third-and-nine, Bailey rumbled for a massive 35-yard touchdown to increase the lead to 24-10.
Louisiana's defense almost came away with an interception, but an incompletion on third down brought the App State punting unit back out with 10 minutes remaining.
The Cajuns couldn't do anything with their opportunity to put the game out of reach. The offense quickly went three-and-out.
App State's offense, in desperation mode started marching. On fourth-and-10, the Mountaineers completed a 24-yard touchdown pass. It capped off a 12-play, 83-yard drive, but the two-point conversion failed. The Cajuns lead was cut to 24-16 with five minutes left.
On Louisiana's next drive, they needed to answer, and they went to Bailey again. A 13-yard reception and 12-yard rush by the Cajuns running back brought Louisiana into App State territory. On third-and-eight, Bailey gained eight yards for a crucial first down. The Mountaineers used their final timeout. The Cajuns were stopped on third down at the App State 35, and, with 33 seconds remaining, they went for it on fourth-and-six. An incompletion turned the ball over on downs.
Louisiana's defense needed one last stop. Linebacker Kris Moncrief sacked the Mountaineers quarterback and he fumbled. The Cajuns were hit with a celebration penalty, and, after review, they overturned the fumble to an incomplete pass. The flag took App State into Cajuns territory.
The very next play, Manac forced a fumble that he recovered. The Cajuns ran out the clock on a kneel and won the championship title.
The record crowd at Cajun Field rushed the field in celebration.
Louisiana finished the 2021 season with a 12-1 record. Up next, they will play in the New Orleans Bowl against a team that will be announced on Sunday.