TROY, Ala. — UL-Lafayette outplayed Troy in the second half of their Sun Belt Conference game, but it wasn’t enough to overcome a shaky first half.
The Cajuns held Troy to three points in the second half, but fell 26-16 at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Troy’s pass-and-catch combination of quarterback Sawyer Smith and wide receiver Damion Willis was almost automatic. Smith completed 18 of 22 passes with 10 of them going to Willis, good for 213 yards and a touchdown.
“I’m proud of our team for hanging in there at halftime,” UL-Lafayette coach Billy Napier said. “We could have went south, but we battled our way back into the game, and made it a two-score game.
“We made critical errors, but I think this football team is growing up.”
Coupled with UL-Monroe’s 44-25 win over Georgia Southern, the loss drops UL-Lafayette (4-5, 2-3) into second place in the Sun Belt West Division. The Cajuns can still win the division and advance to the conference championship game if they win their final three games.
Troy (7-2, 5-0) remained in first place in the East Division.
Trailing 23-3 at halftime, UL-Lafayette got a spark when Raymond Calais returned the second half kickoff 44 yards to the ULL 45. Trey Ragas, who ran 18 times for 106 yards and two scores, picked up the first Cajuns touchdown with a 3-yard run.
After Troy’s Tyler Sumpter kicked a 49-yard field goal, his fourth of the game, UL-Lafayette delivered another touchdown drive. This one covered 65 yards in nine plays with Ragas’ 5-yard run making the score 26-16 in the final minute of the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, UL-Lafayette kept Troy off the scoreboard, but not from eating up clock. The Cajuns had three possessions; the first stalled with a punt from midfield and the others ended on interceptions in Troy territory.
“I think we can play better,” Napier said. “We can make better decisions, and we also can coach a little bit better. We were able to make some adjustments at halftime and put our players in better positions, but you’ve got to give Troy some credit. They’re a good football team.”
UL-Lafayette quarterback Andre Nunez completed 11 of 26 passes for 126 yards. Levi Lewis was 2 of 3 for 23 yards, and directed one scoring drive while losing a fumble on another.
Troy’s B.J. Smith, the Sun Belt’s leading rusher, carried 22 times for 103 yards and a TD. It was Smith’s fifth consecutive 100-yard game, a Troy school record.
As it has done all season, Troy started quickly with 10 first quarter points. The Trojans, who were aided by Cajuns mistakes and missed opportunities, added 13 in the second quarter.
The teams traded field goals to open the game, but it didn’t take long for Troy to respond and take the lead for good.
On the second play following UL-Lafayette’s field goal, Willis broke free on a busted coverage in the secondary for a 75-yard touchdown reception. Willis was so far behind cornerback Kendall Johnson that Sawyer Smith’s wobbling throw still had plenty of time to find its mark.
UL-Lafayette got a first-quarter break when Koa Haynes recovered a fumble at the ULL 33. The Cajuns eventually moved inside the TU 20, but missed their best chance to score on first down. Tight end Johnny Lumpkin, open inside the 10, was unable to pull in Nunez’ throw. The Cajuns settled for Kyle Pfau’s 39-yard field goal try, but it missed wide right.
In the second quarter, UL-Lafayette sent Lewis in for a series, but he fumbled a handoff on first down. Troy took over at the UL-Lafayette 23, and only needed two handoffs to B.J. Smith to get into the end zone.
Over the final nine minutes of the half, UL-Lafayette picked up one first down. Troy used its last two possessions of the half to drive into field goal range, and took a 23-3 lead into halftime.