Cajuns went for it when it mattered at South Alabama

Tim Buckley
The Daily Advertiser
Running back Elijah Mitchell ran for 117 yards and one touchdown in UL's 37-27 win at South Alabama on Saturday night in Mobile, Alabama.

MOBILE, Ala. — When it came time to make perhaps his toughest call of the night, and maybe all season, Billy Napier called a timeout.

There were 12 minutes and 41 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, and Napier’s Ragin’ Cajuns faced 4th-and-short at their own 39-yard line.

Whatever Napier said during the timeout worked, as Elijah Mitchell picked up a 13-yard gain.

Twelve plays later, Mitchell ran in from 1 yard out to help give UL a nine-point lead in an eventual 37-27 win over South Alabama on Saturday night at Ladd-Peebles Stadium here.

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“We had a decision to make there,” Napier said after UL finished 5-0 in true regular-season road games for the first time since 1970.

“In my opinion, I felt like that we needed to keep the momentum of the game.

“It was really less than a yard. I thought we had a good play in our pocket,” Napier added, “and talked it over with Coach Roberts (Ron Roberts, UL’s defensive coordinator), Coach Sale (Rob Sale, UL’s offensive coordinator) and our guys, and we felt good about what we had there.”

The decision Napier and the Cajun made turned out to be spot-on.

What tipped the scale in favor of going for it?

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“We felt good about what we had there,” Napier said of what wound up continuing a 17-play, 85-yard drive, “and certainly defensively at that point I think it would have done us a lot of good to get a first down and stay on the field.”

Mitchell wound up with 117 yards and the one TD on 17 carries, while quarterback Levi Lewis went 16-of-28 for 136 yards and second-quarter touchdown passes to tight ends Neal Johnson and Hunter Bergeron for the 8-2 Cajuns.

Stevie Artigue added three short field goals for UL, the last of which was a 20-yarder that made it 23-21 late in the third quarter and made Artigue the program’s career leader in made field goals.

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But it was the boost from Mitchell’s first down pickup that gave UL the separation it would need to pull away from now 1-9 South Alabama in the final quarter.

Cajuns cornerback Eric Garror had no doubt whatsoever that UL’s offense would convert on fourth down and keep its defense off the field a while longer.

“I know we have a three-monster in the backfield,” he said with references to running backs Mitchell, Raymond Calais Jr. (who had 77 yards on 13 carries) and Trey Ragas (10 carries, 52 yards) and a UL ground attack ranked fifth in the country in yards per game.

“And I know that can get an inch, 1 yard, 2 yards … every time,” added Garror, who returned a punt 72 yards to the 4-yard line to set up Artigue’s 20-yard field goal. “I’m on the sideline like, ‘Go for it,’ and I know they were  gonna get it.”

And go for it they did.

Mitchell, a junior from Erath High, sure was happy that turned out to be the case.

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"Fourth down, we just have to have that mentality (of) 'We really need; just run hard,'" he said. "So I ran hard, and we got the first down."

With that, UL heads into its final two games of the regular season — at home against Troy on Saturday and one week later at home against UL Monroe — riding a four-game win streak.

And it’s all because Napier had the guts to go for it when others in that situation might have punted.

Literally, and figuratively.

Fortunately for him it worked, and that he gave credit to those who made it happen — including a beat-up offense missing its would-be starting center (injured Cole Prudhomme) all season, its starting left guard (injured Ken Marks) most of the season and its starting right tackle (injured  Robert Hunt, who was out for a third straight game).

“Great execution by the players,” Napier said, “and certainly that created momentum in the game and led to a big finish there with a touchdown.”