MOBILE, Ala. — Heading into Monday night's LendingTree Bowl, much of the X-and-O discussion was about UL’s vaunted rushing attack and Miami’s size and physical approach at the line of scrimmage.
Then the game started, and the two quarterbacks put on a show.
Fortunately for the Ragin’ Cajuns, Levi Lewis delivered the slightly more impactful performance.
The result was a 27-17 victory over the Redhawks at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
The extended month-long break is over.
It was the Cajuns’ first bowl win since 2014, their first win in three tries over Miami and the Sun Belt Conference’s fifth straight win over MAC opponents in Mobile.
The Cajuns also established a new school record with their 11th win.
"This is a team that I felt went through a lot of adversity," UL coach Billy Napier said. "We had to adjust and patch up issues the entire year and I thought our staff did a great job of positioning out players for success. Tonight our guys were at their best in times that it mattered the most. We weren’t perfect tonight. Miami had a great plan and played a great game and made it very competitive. It was a great team win.”
Lewis finished the night 19-of-26 passing for 246 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. The junior left-hander also had eight carries for 62 yards to earn the game's Most Valuable Player award.
Miami freshman quarterback Brett Gabbert, younger brother of NFL quarterback Blaine Gabbert, was spectacular as well, completing 22 of 31 passes for 248 yards.
Ja’Marcus Bradley finished with seven receptions for 88 yards and two touchdowns.
After a slow start, UL’s running game still finished with 155 yards to go along with 246 yards passing. All told, the Cajuns had 401 yards from scrimmage in the win.
“We played cover three, the defense we ran all year," Miami coach Chuck Martin said. "We didn’t defense the pass as well as we are capable of, we missed some of their sneak routes and a couple of over routes. We weren’t selling out to stop the run. They did some nice things, but they had 40 days and coach (Billy) Napier and his staff are good so they knew where we were going to be because we’re pretty systematic.”
And there was a lot more offense in the first half than the 10-7 halftime score indicated.
For all of those fans wondering if UL head football coach Billy Napier is still a candidate to replace Joe Moorhead as Mississippi State's hea…
There was only one three-and-out in the first half, coming on Miami’s fourth drive of the game. Big tackles by Terik Miller for a 3-yard loss and Joe Dillon for a 1-yard losslargely accounted for that stop.
Miami’s offense got at least one first down in its other four drives in the first half. The second series got four, but stalled after a Kris Moncrief 5-yard sack.
The Redhawks' next possession, though, covered 66 yards on 10 plays in 4:35 to take a 7-0 lead with 10:25 left in the second quarter.
A 26-yard run by Tyre Shelton ignited the drive that ended with a 5-yard TD run by Jaylon Bester.
Meanwhile, UL’s first two drives got off to promising starts, but the Cajuns weren’t able to finish.
A 27-yard pass to Bradley got UL to midfield on its opening possession, but a 10-yard loss on a double reverse halted that drive.
A 43-yarder to Calif Gossett got the Cajuns near midfield on their next drive, but that one also soon stalled.
A year ago, the UL Ragin’ Cajuns were a bit of a surprise to many in coach Billy Napier’s first season.
The third one didn’t end, however, without points.
Completions of 18 yards to Bradley and 36 yards to Gossett to penetrate the red zone.
Stevie Artigue nailed his 33-yard field goal to get UL on the board, cutting the Cajuns' deficit to 7-3 with 6:32 left.
The three points moved Artigue into the No. 2 spot on UL’s all-time scoring list at 296 — only trailing Elijah McGuire’s 318 points. He would score nine more points on the night.
That’s when UL’s defense stepped up with the three-and-out to set up a seven-play, 57-yard drive in 3:02 to take its first lead of the game.
A 19-yard pass to Jalen Williams got the drive going, but the running game finished it off. First it was a 12-yard scramble by Lewis, before Elijah Mitchell ran it three times for 21 yards to give UL a 10-7 lead with a 2-yard TD run with 1:05 left until halftime.
For most of the first half, Miami’s defense stuffed the running game, and Lewis countered by completing 12 of 16 passes for 157 yards over the first two quarters.
“They have plenty of good players and are very well coached, they’re very disciplined and play the game the right way," Martin said of the Cajuns. "The play really, really hard and really fast.”
With all the pregame talk about UL’s rushing attack, the Cajuns made Miami pay some for its emphasis on stopping it.
In addition to Lewis, Gossett had two grabs for 79 yards and Bradley with four catches for 54 yards.
Lewis and the offense carried the momentum into the second half with touchdowns on their first two drives.
A 20-yarder to Williams ignited the first one that ended with a nifty scramble and 9-yard TD pass to Bradley in the back of the end zone for a 17-7 lead with 10:51 left in the third.
Bradley was at it again on the next drive. First it was Jamal Bell with the big play of the night — a 27-yarder over the middle on third-and-7 to reach Miami’s 36.
After an unsportsmanlike flag on Miami got UL to the 14, Bradley caught a 12-yard TD pass for the 24-10 lead with 2:26 left in the third.
That came after a 39-yard field goal by Sam Sloman, who had 25 field goals entering the bowl for the second most nationally.
But Miami wasn’t done, executing a 14-play, 77-yard drive in 5:51 to cut it to 24-17 with 11:35 remaining. Bester did the honors with a 1-yard score.
UL’s defense then delivered the knockout punch when Percy Butler forced fumble and Ja’Quane Nelson recovered it on review at the Miami 48. The Redhawks would have been facing a fourth-and-1 from the 46 if the review had gone their way, trailing 24-17.
The result of the ensuing drive was an Artigue 38-yard field goal for a 27-17 lead with 4:35 left.
The next bad offensive play for Miami came a few minutes later. One play after it appeared Butler put the game away with an interception only for a pass interference to be called, Gabbert hit James Maye for a 63-yard pass to the UL 2.
A big pass deflection by Kam Pedescleaux got the Redhawks to fourth-and-goal from the 1, but the snap was bad for a 23-yard loss to ice the victory for the Cajuns.
“We were running tempo and trying to catch them off guard," Gabbert explained. "We were going to run the ball and they were moving around at the line. I hiked the ball and I think it just slipped off (center) Danny’s (Godlevske) fingers. That stuff just happens sometimes and you can’t control it. I’m never going to blame him; he’s a first-team all-MAC center and it just happened. That play didn’t lose the game for us. Turning the ball over twice and not getting first downs lost us the game.”