LAFAYETTE, La – A late 13-yard touchdown run by freshman Montrell Johnson and a clutch defensive stand late in the game preserved a 21-17 victory over Georgia State and clinched the team’s fourth-straight Sun Belt Conference West Division title on Thursday night.
Louisiana will now make its fourth consecutive appearance in the Sun Belt’s title game, the only team in the league to do so, while the victory improved the Ragin’ Cajuns to 14-3 in one-possession games under head coach Billy Napier.
In addition, the Ragin’ Cajuns matched the program record for consecutive wins with eight, a feat that was last achieved in 1976.
A monster nine-catch, 118-yard performance from wide receiver Peter LeBlanc headlined the Ragin’ Cajuns offensive production on the night. LeBlanc also found the end zone late in the third quarter to complete his stat sheet.
Johnson carried the ball for 98 yards on 17 attempts and added two fourth-quarter scores. With the pair of touchdowns, the New Orleans native is now tied for second with Trey Ragas for the most rushing scores by a Louisiana freshman (9) since 2000.
Levi Lewis submitted a solid performance with 287 yards through the air, while going 19-for-34 passes and the touchdown connection with LeBlanc.
Linebacker Lorenzo McCaskill, defensive lineman Zi’Yon Hill and safety Percy Butler led the Ragin’ Cajuns’ defense with eight tackles apiece. Chauncey Manac made a significant contribution tallying seven tackles, while AJ Riley contributed a career-high two sacks
The first half was a defensive slugfest, with Georgia State earning the only points on a 39-yard field goal.
Louisiana pieced together several long drives in the opening quarters, but were unable to convert on two fourth-down tries, stalling the momentum.
Early in the third quarter, the Panthers intercepted a pass from Lewis, the game’s only turnover, and found the end zone three plays later on a 37-yard passing score.
Now trailing by double digits, the Louisiana offense found its groove on the next possession and began a 12-play, 75-yard journey down the field that was bookended by LeBlanc’s score from 13 yards out.
The drive began to turn the tide in favor of the Ragin’ Cajuns as the defense earned a quick stop, giving the ball back to the offense and setting up a six-play 50-yard drive that resulted in a second consecutive score. Johnson crossed the pylons from three yards out.
The Panthers failed to go away as the opposing offense rushed the ball on 16 consecutive plays and took the lead back with just over five minutes to play.
Needing a score, the Louisiana offense once again delivered down the stretch as Lewis marched the unit down the field in eight plays and set up Johnson for a one-yard touchdown run to push the Cajuns ahead, 21-17.
Georgia State had a final chance to respond, but a fourth-down pass breakup by junior cornerback Eric Garror sealed the 21-17 win and the West Division title.
The Ragin’ Cajuns will be back in action next Saturday when the team travels to Troy, Ala., to face the Troy Trojans. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. and will be available to stream live at 2:30 p.m.