LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) — Louisiana-Lafayette transfer kicker Nate Snyder had missed three of his four collegiate field goal attempts in the Ragin’ Cajuns’ first two games, but head coach Billy Napier didn’t lose confidence.
“I watch him every day, and he’s lights out,” Napier said after Snyder’s 53-yard field goal on the game’s final play gave No. 19 ULL a 20-18 Sun Belt Conference win over upset-minded Georgia Southern here Saturday. “You can see the leg talent when he kicks off. He’s a very talented young man who had just made some technical errors. You don’t make a 53-yarder if you don’t have confidence.”
The Ragin’ Cajuns (3-0, 2-0 Sun Belt) looked on the way to their first loss when Georgia Southern quarterback Shai Wertz hit Khaleb Hood with a 28-yard touchdown pass and Dalton Anderson with a two-point conversion with 54 seconds left to give the Eagles (1-1, 0-1) an 18-17 lead.
ULL quarterback Levi Lewis completed three passes for 47 yards in a desperation final drive, including an 18-yarder to running back Trey Ragas to the Eagle 36. From there Snyder, who hit a 25-yard field goal late in the third quarter to tie the game but missed a 34-yarder at the end of the first half, lined up for easily the longest field goal try of his college career.
“I knew that we would be able to drive down and get a kick,” the Indiana transfer said. “I just felt like it was going to be a long one and thinking I really needed to hammer the ball. The misses I’d had, I’d been trying to aim it.”
His game-winner was down the middle with room to spare to give the Cajuns their third straight comeback win.
“The second I hit it, I knew it was good,” Snyder said. “I was halfway to the sideline before it went through.”
Lewis, who threw for 290 yards, including connecting with Errol Rogers on a 27-yard touchdown pass with 10:34 left to give ULL its first lead at 17-10. The Cajuns dodged a bullet when Eagle receiver Beau Johnson fumbled through the end zone for a touchback at the end of a 57-yard completion that was ruled a touchdown and overturned on replay with 2:48 left.
Werts, who threw for a career-high 255 yards and completed his final seven passes, led a 61-yard drive in the final two minutes that he ended with his scoring pass to Hood. After a time out, Werts evaded one tackler before hitting Anderson for the two-point conversion.
Werts set up the Eagles’ first score with a 61-yard pass to Wesley Kennedy III before J. D. King’s two-yard scoring run on the first play of the second period. The Cajuns, who were missing eight starters mostly due to coronavirus quarantines, came back with an 83-yard drive and Ragas scored from 10 yards out to make it 7-7 at halftime.
“We played a little short-handed,” Napier said. “We didn’t pay with near the roster we had in the opener (a 31-14 road win over then-ranked Iowa State), “but we had a lot of players who played for the first time that stepped up and had a significant role. I’m proud of the young guys that stepped up.”
Georgia Southern: The Eagles’ option attack took a back seat Saturday to the arm of Werts, whose previous career high was 190 yards passing. He had four completions of 30 or more yards.
Louisiana-Lafayette: The Ragin’ Cajuns rallied from behind for a third straight time after trailing Iowa State at halftime and going into overtime before downing Georgia State last weekend. Lewis has now thrown for 569 yards in ULL’s last two games.
ULL will likely drop in the poll even with the victory, since Big Ten Conference teams will start being ranked in next week’s AP poll.
Georgia Southern controlled the ball for more than 35 minutes, was 8-of-14 on third downs and had six drives of 50 or more yards, but got no points out of three drives inside the ULL 25-yard-line. “They had a good plan and they force you to do a lot of things,” Napier said. “The option and the play-action challenge your eye discipline and creates issues, and Werts is a dangerous player.”
Georgia Southern returns to the state of Louisiana next Saturday to face Louisiana-Monroe. ULL is open next Saturday and will travel to meet Appalachian State in a Wednesday, Oct. 7, game that matches the preseason Sun Belt favorites in the West and East Divisions.