In the season-opening loss to Mississippi State, it appeared UL quarterback Levi Lewis and the offense might get their first two-minute opportunity to end the first half.
Instead, the defense couldn’t get off the field, yielding an 11-play, 82-yard scoring drive to only leave UL’s offense with 31 seconds to work with.
On Saturday, Lewis and the offense got a full-fledged, two-minute opportunity — and delivered in a big way.
“Big drive in the game to capture some momentum,” UL coach Billy Napier said. “I thought Levi did a good job of kind of taking what the defense gave him. We mixed it up a little bit. We kept our timeout in our pocket. Being able to mix it up with a run-pass option, I thought that was good to see.
“It was good to see us … OK, we didn’t do it well last week, but then to answer the call this week and do it well. That was a big series in the game. That was good to see.”
The Cajuns gained possession at their own 16 with 1:57 left. The drive began a little uncharacteristically with a 7-yard run by Raymond Calais, but the next seven plays went about as well as they could for the Cajuns.
The result was an eight-play, 84-yard scoring drive in 1:31 to grab a 21-14 halftime lead.
Those seven plays included four Lewis completions in four tries for 43 yards. The big one was a 19-yard to true freshman tight end Neal Johnson to cross midfield. Calais added runs of three and 26 yards to get UL to the 2.
The touchdown was converted on a 2-yard touchdown toss to Ja’Marcus Bradley, who extended his streak of consecutive games with a reception to 29.
It was a first half of mishaps in the kicking game for both teams.
The Cajuns began the trend with a 42-yard missed field by Stevie Artigue to end an opening drive that covered 50 yards on eight plays in 3:20.
Then, it happened again. UL’s second drive ended with a missed 44-yard field goal with 4:06 left in the first quarter.
“I’ve watched Stevie since spring practice,” Napier said. “Sometimes the kicker gets a little too much of the blame. I think the whole operation affected things tonight. The snap, the hold maybe wasn’t perfect on those first two miscues. We’re going to support Stevie. I mean heck, I made some mistakes tonight too. There are things I can do better.
“Stevie’s going to go back to work. He’ll be fine. To see him hit some extra points right down the middle to give him some confidence there, he’ll be just fine as we go forward. I believe in the kid. I know how hard he works. I know how important it is to him to do his job for his teammates.”
At that point, Liberty joined the chaos with a 28-yard punt to end its third possession. That set up the Cajuns’ first scoring drive to tie the game at 7-7.
Two drives later for Liberty, the Flames were flagged for holding on a kickoff return to set the offense back to its own 8. Liberty punted three plays later.
It only got worse.
The ensuing punt was returned 43 yards to the Flames 11 by Eric Garror, but the big return was nullified by an illegal block in the back on the Cajuns.
And believe it or not, five plays later, the Cajuns missed a third straight field goal – this time from 38 yards out.
UL’s defense didn’t answer the bell, or at least the opening kickoff, in Saturday’s non-conference contest against Liberty.
The Flames’ offense picked up seven first downs in its first nine plays from scrimmage. Liberty quarterback Stephen Calvert hit on his first six pass attempts for 59 yards.
It was the second straight game the opposing offense opened with a relatively easy touchdown drive.
“It’s something we need to take a good look at and see where we can improve,” Napier said. “There’s no question about that. We’ll quality-control this game from top to bottom in all three phases.”
The first resistance by UL’s defense was an acrobatic interception by senior cornerback Michael Jacquet, who tipped the ball in the air and corralled it for the pick.
Furthermore, it wasn’t until Liberty’s 14th play from scrimmage until UL’s defense forced a third-down situation. The Flames didn’t convert to force the game’s first punt, which only went 28 yards to set up the Cajuns’ first touchdown drive.
Napier said through August that the starting lineup in several positions to fluctuate from week to week throughout the season.
Two games into the season, he wasn’t fibbing. Starting at safety Saturday was redshirt junior Cameron Solomon alongside sophomore Percy Butler. That was Butler’s second consecutive start after starting with Deuce Wallace in the season opener.
On the offensive line, sophomore Max Mitchell made his second consecutive start at left tackle, while true freshman O’Cyrus Torrence made his first career start at left guard.
In doing so, Torrence became the first Cajuns true freshman to start on the offensive line since Jesse Newman did so on Nov. 20, 2004.
He didn’t start, but true freshman Jax Harrington of Erath saw his first action as well.
“We beat Power Five schools for those two players (Torrence and Harrington), and those two guys have played as true freshmen here,” Napier said. “Then, sure they’re big, strong and talented but you’ve got to get them ready.”