First Responder Bowl Football

Louisiana-Lafayette running back Elijah Mitchell (15) runs through a tackle attempt by UTSA safety Rashad Wisdom in the first quarter during the First Responder Bowl NCAA college football game in Dallas, Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Strasen)



The yellow flag was a big part of Saturday’s game, especially in the first half.

At halftime, the Cajuns were flagged six times for 57 yards, while the Roadrunners suffered five penalties for 45 yards. UL finished with 10 flags for 84 yards.

Four of UTSA’s flag resulted in first downs for UL’s offense and three of the Cajuns’ flag produced first half.

The most common one was defensive pass interference. The ACC officiating crew threw three defensive interference flags on the Cajuns in the first half and two on the Roadrunners.

The only obvious one was UTSA’s early contact with UL receiver Kaleb Carter near the goal line on a deep post route. The other were all subject to interpretation.

"I felt like two of them were good calls," Napier said. "I thought one of them was a little bit of a bang-bang play."

The most damaging one to the Cajuns came on third-and-8 from the UL 26. Quarterback Frank Harris threw one up for grabs incomplete until the flag was thrown. On the next play, Harris scampered in 11 yards for a touchdown untouched to narrow UL’s lead to 10-7.

In many ways, the flag of the game came in the third quarter. With the Cajuns trying to add to their 24-14 lead, Trey Ragas seemingly gets the first down on fourth and short from the UTSA 33.

But holding was called and that eventually led to a UL punt.

The Roadrunners would then drive 89 yards on six plays to get close at 24-21 with 4:09 left in the third quarter.

In the third quarter, a 47-yard pass play to Peter LeBlanc was nullified by an illegal man downfield flag, and a fourth-and-one first down run was called by by holding.

"It (lineman downfield) was really a technical error," Napier said. "It was a running play and we kind of double-clutched the ball (on the pass) and threw it a little later than we typically would. I can live with that penalty. I think the holding, I think Neal (Johnson), that's a fundamental error, a technical error. Those are things, that's coaching, no question, it's discipline. It's using the correct technique in a critical situation."

Wind was a factor

The sky was perfectly blue and you couldn’t ask for better game time temperature of 68 degrees.

But there was a stiff wind blowing directly into the face of UL’s offense in the first quarter.

In the second quarter, the Roadrunners attempted a field goal into the wind. It was a 42-yarder from Hunter Duplessis, who had made 16 of 18 tries on the season, and it sailed wide right.

"I do think it was a factor," Napier said of the wind. "Although I do think our specialists handled it well. I never thought it would affect the kicking game like I thought it would. 

"I do think it did affect the throwing game. There's no question we tried to warm up Levi (Lewis) throwing into the wind and against the wind."

The wind also played a critical role in the Cajuns’ favor later in the first half. After Kyren Lacy caught a 10-yard touchdown pass to give the Cajuns a 17-7 lead with 1:21 left in the first half, he was flagged for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty that was assessed on the kickoff.

Instead of making Napier even more heated, however, Nate Snyder used the wind as momentum to still convert a touchback, which didn’t allow the Roadrunners to get good field position without any timeouts left to close out the first half.

Not sharp early on

The Ragin’ Cajuns might have been motivated with a chip on their shoulders after everything that’s happened off the field this month, but UL certainly wasn’t sharp in several areas.

The passing suffered a few drops, settling for 7-of-13 passing in the first half for 93 yards and two scores.

After starting the game 1-for-4 on third down conversions, a strong finish allowed UL to finish the first half 3-for-6 on third down.

"No," UL linebacker Lorenzo McCaskill said when asked about layoff. "I think that was a pretty good team that we played. We came out and played hard and they competed with us. I don't really blame it on anything else. We had great weeks of practice just like any other week. They came out and played. They were a good team."

There was also one memorable fourth down that wasn’t converted. Appearing to line up for a 31-yard field goal with 4:33 left in the first quarter into a stiff wind, the Cajuns opted for the fake field goal. Holder Dalen Cambre threw an accurate ball into the end zone to Tanner Wiggins, but he was well covered to force the Cajuns to turn it over on downs.

"We had kind of decided if we got it in the fringe or red zone on the left hash ... we'd been practicing that fake all season," Napier said. "We kind of decided in the staff meeting this morning that if we got it on the left hash ... we were going to go with it."

Sun Belt vs. CUSA

With UL’s 31-24 victory over UTSA on Saturday, things got even worse for Conference USA.

Appalachian State had already waxed North Texas 56-28 and Georgia Southern handled Louisiana Tech 38-3.

Add Georgia State’s 39-21 win over Western Kentucky and it got even worse.

As a result, Conference USA finished 0-6 in bowl games, while the Sun Belt Conference improved to 4-0 after the Cajuns’ game with Coastal Carolina playing later Saturday evening in the Cure Bowl.

"I'm proud of our league and proud of our teams and staffs for what they've been able to accomplish this year in particular," Napier said. "It's only going to get better."

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