MOBILE, Ala. – Whether the move to play him was forced by injuries or just his gift of gab, Levi Lewis might have just saved Louisiana-Lafayette’s season.
Lewis, a true freshman from Scotlandville, threw for a pair of touchdowns and ran for 129 yards on 18 carries Saturday as the Ragin' Cajuns beat South Alabama 19-14 for a Sun Belt Conference win at Ladd-Peebles Stadium that helped wipe some bad taste from their mouths and get them back to .500.
“He is a guy that has poise, and you can see it in his feet in the pocket,” said Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth. “He’s got that natural instinct of knowing if it’s not there, he won’t just keep looking around. He knows, 'I’m going to pull it down … take it and make something with it.' ”
Already thinking about shaking up a stagnant offense that had only averaged 16 points the previous three games, Hudspeth was prepared to go with backup Jordan Davis in place of injured starter Andre Nunez against the Jaguars.
But Hudspeth got a knock on his door early last week, and it was Lewis, who told his coach he wanted to help. Hudspeth heard him loud and clear, and the freshman QB responded by completing 8 of 15 passes for 110 yards and the two scores with no interceptions.
“It was all about preparation before the game,” Lewis said. “My team believed in me, so the whole week I just kept preparing with a laser-like focus.”
And that conversation with his coach that got him the start and essentially wiped out his redshirt season?
“I told him I’m graduating in four years anyway,” Lewis said with a smile. “I just told him I wanted to help.”
Lewis found Michael Jacquet on a 54-yard TD pass and hit Chase Rogers with a 13-yard scoring strike.
“I feel like it was a broken coverage,” said Jacquet.
“I was running down the seam and the man that was on me, I guess (saw) Levi started running, so he came off me and I just turned around wide open, saw the ball in the air and I just caught it and ran for a touchdown.
“Levi came out here and got us back on track. He did everything we wanted him to do, made plays with his feet and his arm.”
Stevie Artigue was good on field goals of 37 and 20 yards but missed an extra point.
The Cajuns (4-4, 3-2) had more than two weeks to stew over a 47-3 blowout loss at Arkansas State on Oct. 19, and the defense apparently made good use of the time, slamming the door on South Alabama’s offense with a pair of interceptions and forcing the Jaguars to yank starting quarterback Dallas Davis in the first half.
“As a defense, you’re going to have adversity, but you just have to stay calm,” said middle linebacker T.J. Posey, who had one of the two interceptions.
“My read just took me to the wide receiver. He stopped down early, but he missed the ball and me being on top of him like I’m supposed to be, the ball just fell into my arms.”
South Alabama didn’t cross midfield until 1:46 was left in the half, and backup QB Cole Garvin threw a 12-yard TD pass to Malik Stanley. The pair hooked up again for a 16-yard touchdown with just 59 seconds left in the game, but the Cajuns recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock.
The Cajuns travel to Ole Miss next Saturday, while South Alabama (3-6, 2-3) hosts Arkansas State.