Sun Belt Championship Football

The rematch with Appalachian State after UL's loss in the Sun Belt Conference championship game last December was supposed to be Wednesday. But more COVID-19 positive tests in Boone, N.C. has postponed the game until Dec. 4-5 weekend.

The weekly COVID-19 cancellations that have impacted college football programs across the country have finally hit home for the UL Ragin’ Cajuns.

Wednesday’s scheduled trip to meet Appalachian State in the game of the year for coach Billy Napier’s program has been postponed because of COVID-19 issues in the Mountaineers’ program in Boone, North Carolina.

The game will be played either Dec. 4 or 5.

“By all means, we want to prioritize the health and safety of everybody involved,” UL athletic director Bryan Maggard said. “So although disappointed, we absolutely understand and look forward to setting a date and time for the game to be played down the road.”

TV would be the reason for the game possibly being rescheduled for Friday, Dec. 4.

“Certainly our thoughts and prayers are with App as they deal with a very difficult situation,” Napier said. “It’s just part of the dynamic this year. We’ve had our own issues and bumps and bruises along the way, so we understand.”

Currently, UL’s next scheduled game is Oct. 17 against Coastal Carolina at Cajun Field. Maggard, however, said it’s possible the Cajuns could play a future opponent Oct. 10.

“I think everything’s possible, to be honest with you,” Maggard said. “We’ll start looking into something like that potentially. I think the mindset of us and certainly the conference office and my colleagues around the league is, we believe the quicker and safer we can get games in, the better.

“So I think we wouldn’t leave anything on the table that’s not worthy of discussion to talk about.”

Three future UL opponents — UAB, Coastal Carolina and South Alabama — don’t have a game scheduled Oct. 10.

Coastal Carolina is a home game slated for Oct. 17, and South Alabama was to come to Cajun Field on Nov. 14. The UAB game is slated for Friday, Oct. 23 in Alabama.

“As we look at the rest of the season from today moving forward, we need to take a look at the upcoming games and plot if any availability that could occur to move games around,” Maggard said Thursday. “But at this time, we have nothing confirmed.”

Maggard suggested UL wouldn’t likely add a new opponent to its schedule, but rather move up an existing game.

The reason would be to avoid a 21-day break for the 3-0 Cajuns, who last played Saturday.

“We certainly would prefer to play on the 10th,” Napier said. “Certainly, we would not like to go 21 days without a game. I think it would be a challenge to motivate and keep the focus and attention of the players. So playing on the 10th would benefit us, and certainly those are part of the conversations we’re having at this point and time.”

Napier said his players and staff took notice at the difficulty the Mountaineers had in fielding a team — missing 20 players — for last week’s win over Campbell.

“I think once we saw that, we had anticipated maybe more issues and that’s exactly what happened,” he said. “It is what it is. It’s part of the dynamic this year and I think being prepared to adjust, having the focus to change gears and really zero in on what’s important today is going to be even more important than ever.”

Since then, the number of Mountaineers impacted by coronavirus rose.

“Yes, they just had a lot more positive tests,” Maggard said. “I think it was among staff and student-athletes was my understanding. I believe they had to shut down some practices and would not be prepared from a body, personnel standpoint to be able to adequately prepare for the game.”

If UL and Appalachian State continue the trend of the past two seasons, that could mean the two teams meeting in back-to-back weeks, with the Sun Belt championship game scheduled for Dec. 12.

Maggard, though, said it was possible the Sun Belt title game could get pushed back to Dec. 19 to accommodate other postponements around the league.

“Basically we’ve got a new order to the season, right? We’ll adjust,” Napier said. “Probably the most important thing is that we play a brand of ball and playing winning football between now and then so that that game is significant. We’ve got to really zero in on the next opponent and once that’s defined for us, we’ll do just that.

“I don’t think you can go much further than the next game, given the strength of our league and how some of the teams are getting better and better. I think that’s pretty evident with how they’re playing out of conference.”

Napier said he currently has a practice plan for his team through Saturday and then suggested he should know by then when UL’s next game will be to determine the team’s schedule for next week.

Both Maggard and Napier made it clear UL is getting healthier and would have been ready to play Wednesday’s game.

“Yes, we would have had a big contingency of players that would have been available,” Napier said. “Now, we all know there are series of tests that are left to be done, but I do feel like we were going to get a big group of players back — not only relative to contact tracing relative to COVID-19 but also just in general, the normal injuries that we’ve experienced.

“In general, we are making significant progress as a whole in terms of the health of our team.”


Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.