First Responder Bowl Football

UL running back Elijah Mitchell (15), shown here splitting UTSA defensive lineman Brandon Matterson (99) and safety Antonio Parks (4), set a new school bowl record for rushing yards with 127.

Lorenzo McCaskill wasn’t about to hide his feelings.

He didn’t actually say the names of any of his teammates, but it was pretty obvious which one topped his wish list.

No big surprise, senior running back Elijah Mitchell would be near the top for a lot of UL football coaches, players and fans.

Just moments after Mitchell was honored as the Most Valuable Player in the 31-24 SERVPRO First Responder Bowl win over UTSA, the junior linebacker McCaskill was already thinking about the future.

“Usually I don’t like to look ahead, but it’s special,” McCaskill said. “It’s going to be special. I think next year is going to be even more special.”

How much better could depend on how many of UL’s seniors decide to take advantage of the special NCAA stipulation of an extra year of eligibility.

“Hopefully we get some guys to come back next year … I don’t want to say any names or anything,” McCaskill laughed, hinting at Mitchell. “If we get some of those guys — whatever decision they make, I’m proud of them.

“I want what’s best for them. If we can get those guys back, Texas (UL's scheduled opening opponent, Sept. 4 in Austin) is going to have some trouble.”

The running game — led by Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas — made sure the 2020 season ended with a win, before looking to the future.

“It started out with the O-line,” said Mitchell, who rushed for 127 yards and a score on 19 carries. “They work their butts off every day in practice. Team run — we go at it. We go at it with our first defense, and it just moved onto the field.

“We (running backs) just have to make it happen if they’re working hard like that.”

The Cajuns ran for 265 yards as a team in the win.

“Yeah, first drive,” Mitchell said of the inside running game. “That’s when we can tell how it’s going to be inside. We had some pretty good runs up the middle, so I knew it was going to be a good day.”

Mitchell, an Erath High alumnus, had plenty of those during his celebrated career with the Cajuns.

McCaskill relishes what Mitchell does to help the Cajuns on both sides of the ball.

“That’s my guy,” McCaskill said. “That’s who makes me better. We go at it at practice. If you’ve ever been to one of our practices, we got at it. We fight, we laugh, we smile. At the end of the day, that’s my brother.

“Whatever he decides, we’re going to be proud of him. He’s going to go far in life. He has every reason not to be humble, but he’s one of the most humble guys on this team.”

Mitchell, who was selected to participate in the Senior Bowl in a month, said he’s still undecided on his future.

“No, I haven’t made a decision,” Mitchell said. “Just need to talk to my family. I have until January to figure everything out.”

In a postseason dominated by the Sun Belt (4-1) in comparison to Conference USA (0-6), it was surprising UTSA was tied with the Cajuns in the middle of the fourth quarter.

McCaskill refused to acknowledge any excuses for the game being a nail-biter. Instead, he credited the Roadrunners for the productive play of quarterback Frank Harris — 208 yards passing and 91 yards on 18 carries.

Three observations from UL's bowl win over UTSA

“He did have a good day,” McCaskill said. “That was something that they watched film and they prepared for him to create an extra gap, or an extra running back. That’s what it became. We didn’t expect him to run that much, but he did.”

But thanks to the running game and thanks to a few timely stops by the defense, the Cajuns were able to end turbulent 2020 with a win … regardless of how many scary moments there were in Dallas on Saturday.

“We’re a tough team,” McCaskill said. “That’s what we prepare for, tough times. We’ve been through it. The whole team has. 2020 was a crazy year, special, but it was crazy.

“The adversity that we continue to keep overcoming is just amazing.”

UL's bowl win was fittingly almost mirror image to so many of Cajuns' hard-fought wins all season


Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.