BOONE, N.C. — App State put together a fourth-quarter rally that fell short, as 20th-ranked Louisiana survived two late safeties and held on for a 24-21 victory Friday night at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
The Mountaineers (7-3, 5-2) cut into a 24-10 deficit on Camerun Peoples’ 1-yard touchdown run with 8:07 remaining and benefited from two special teams safeties given up by the Ragin‘ Cajuns (9-1, 7-1) before driving for a potential game-winning touchdown or game-tying field goal. A 30-yard field goal attempt on a rainy night at The Rock sailed wide left in the closing seconds, giving App State its third loss to a ranked opponent, with those three teams possessing a combined record of 25-1.
Peoples rushed for 99 yards and true freshman Nate Noel had an early 33-yard touchdown run as part of a 72-yard night to lead the offense for the Mountaineers, who wrap up the regular season next Saturday at Georgia Southern for a 6 p.m. game on ESPN3. Running back Trey Ragas rushed for 95 yards and accounted for all three Louisiana touchdowns, including two on the ground, as the Ragin‘ Cajuns beat App State for the first time in nine meetings.
Trey Cobb led App State’s defense with nine tackles, Kaiden Smith added seven, Shemar-Jean Charles had two more PBUs to increase his season total to 16 and Shaun Jolly forced a fumble.
Peoples’ 1-yard touchdown capped a 14-play, 80-yard drive that included a diving catch of 15 yards by Jalen Virgil on a fourth-and-4 pass from the App State 41 and Peoples’ 22-yard run to the 1. After the score trimmed the deficit to 24-17, the Mountaineers’ defense forced a three-and-out punting situation from the Ragin‘ Cajuns, who struggled with high snaps on special teams throughout the night.
Louisiana punter Rhys Byrns chased a high offering into the end zone before kicking the ball through the back of it to guarantee a safety rather than a potential recovery or short field. App State took over at its 40 following the free kick and advanced the UL 23 before a fourth-down sack gave possession back to the Ragin’ Cajuns with 2:09 remaining.
The Mountaineers had three timeouts left, and a third-down pressure from Nick Hampton forced an incomplete pass for another three-and-out punting situation. Louisiana quarterback Levi Lewis retreated 35 yards to the end zone to take an intentional safety, allowing App State to regain possession with 1:46 left and a three-point deficit.
Malik Williams returned the free kick 25 yards to the App State 45, Thomas Hennigan gained 12 yards on a first-down pass, Peoples moved the chains with a third-and-2 conversion and a defensive pass interference penalty on a deep throw to the end zone from the 28 gave the Mountaineers a first down at the Louisiana 13 with 14 seconds remaining.
Two passes to the end zone were incomplete, setting up an overtime-forcing attempt from Chandler Staton, who had made a 43-yarder earlier in the game and become the Sun Belt Conference’s career scoring leader with 329 career points.
A wild first half with wet-weather snapping issues and turnovers ended, more or less, as a low-scoring stalemate. The Mountaineers were ahead 10-9 at the break, but Ragas scored touchdowns on both of Louisiana’s third-quarter drives to turn a one-point deficit into a 14-point advantage.
Louisiana’s first series of the game ended with a high punt snap from the App State 48 rolling all the way back to the Ragin’ Cajuns’ 10, where KeSean Brown knocked the ball loose from Byrns. T.D. Roof scooped up the ball and quickly scored an apparent touchdown, but a flag for a personal foul on the Mountaineers created a long delay.
Instead of the flag being a post-TD penalty or a penalty before the change of possession, the officials gave App State possession at its own 35, about 15 yards from the line of scrimmage. The Mountaineers scored their first touchdown less than four minutes later on the longest run of the season from Noel, a true freshman.
Another high punt snap from the Ragin’ Cajuns for a loss of 38 yards gave App State possession at the UL 22, but a snap affected by the conditions hurt the timing on a 37-yard field goal. The Mountaineers forced another punt but gave the ball away on a fumble to set up a six-play, 49-yard touchdown drive capped by Lewis’ 8-yard touchdown pass to Ragas. A high snap to the holder led to an improvised, unsuccessful two-point pass attempt.
App State increased its lead to 10-6 on Staton’s field goal with 30 seconds left in the first half, but Louisiana gained 46 yards on six plays — including a first-down pass of 22 yards that ended up taking no time off the clock — before kicking a 26-yard field goal to end the half.
An interception near midfield to close App State’s first second-half series preceded a nine-play, 52-yard touchdown drive, which ended with a 17-yard run from Ragas and a successful two-point run from Lewis.
The Ragin’ Cajuns forced a three-and-out kick — App State’s first punt of the night — and responded with a 10-play, 74-yard touchdown march. Ragas scored on a 1-yard carry with 29 seconds remaining in the quarter.
The Mountaineers scored three separate times in the fourth quarter, but the 11 points weren’t enough.