It appears Louisiana-Lafayette football fans are going to be seeing more of junior running back Raymond Calais, whether leading rusher Trey Ragas comes back or not.
With Ragas nursing a lower leg injury, an improving Calais had a breakout game with 13 carries for 186 yards and three touchdowns in the Cajuns' 36-22 victory against Georgia State Saturday.
Calais fits the theme of the improving, maturing Cajuns, who evened their record at 5-5 and 3-3 in Sun Belt play. That puts them one victory from bowl eligibility and two from clinching the West Division title. The Cajuns host South Alabama on Saturday and visit division leader Louisiana-Monroe on Nov. 24.
A smallish running back (185 pounds) who had 15 carries all of last season and who made his mark as a kick returner, Calais stepped up with a 92-yard scoring run in the first quarter, the longest in school history. He added TD runs of 26 and 5 yards as the Cajuns put the visitors away with three consecutive scores in the second half.
Calais, the team’s third leading rusher starting the day, showed patience and then exploded with the opportunity.
“I took it one day at a time,” he said. “Some nights when I walked off with two or three carries, I would go back to work the next day. Coach is always telling us to be ready. I practice how I play. We practice tough and physical. It’s a grown man’s sport. You have to bring it every day.”
Cajuns coach Billy Napier admitted to thinking in a team meeting before the game that they needed to get Calais more touches because of his speed, which helped produced two kickoff returns for touchdowns last season.
“I said, ‘We’ve got to make sure we leave the park and this guy had opportunities to affect the game,’ ” Napier said. “He’s a pretty special guy. He’s earned it. He’s worked and been patient in his career. Hopefully we’ll continue to get that production out of him."
Napier then interrupted the next question because he had more to say about the Breaux Bridge junior who played at Cecilia.
“Raymond is a great teammate, a selfless guy. There were times he’d go in the locker room after three or four touches, not one whisper out of the guy. He’s got some character and integrity. He just continued to come to work, and he’s earned it through proving he can do it. That running back room has great relationships. They see themselves as a team, and I’m proud of that.”
The Cajuns got a good effort from Elijah Mitchell, the team’s No. 2 rusher entering the game. He had 136 yards on 19 carries, including a 57-yard burst to set up his 1-yard score, which upped the margin to 30-14 in the fourth quarter. Mitchell has been on the mend since suffering a lisfranc injury to his foot.
Napier called the team’s effort the best of the season. The defense put the brakes on Georgia State, allowing only 373 yards and holding the Panthers to 2-of-13 on third down conversions. As they move forward he said he thinks his team can improve on Saturday's best effort.
“We’re more consistent than we’ve ever been, but there’s another whole level out there,” Napier said. “You can put the ball down and impose your will and the other team has no choice. That’s the objective. We did a lot good tonight in terms of team football, the best we’ve done it this year. That’s a big step in the right direction. We need to continue to do that in the future.”
The school announced Saturday linebacker Lorenzo McCaskill was no longer a member of the program but did not specify the reason.
“I’m a huge supporter of Lorenzo McCaskill,” Napier said. “I want the guy to have success, he knows that. But you’ve got to comply, do it our way. We’re going to do everything we can do to help him. His teammates are behind him, and our staff is behind him.”