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UL true freshman wide receiver Peter LeBlanc (29), shown here scoring against Texas Southern, has stepped up big at a position limited by injuries throughout the season.

In Saturday’s postgame news conference after the 31-30 win over UL-Monroe, it wasn’t hard to detect what was one of UL coach Billy Napier’s favorite plays in the game.

It was midway in the third quarter and the game was tied at 21-21. Ja’Marcus Bradley had just turned a short pass into a career-high 74-yard gainer to the ULM 1.

But suddenly the Cajuns were facing a fourth-and-goal from the 2 when Levi Lewis found freshman receiver Peter LeBlanc in the back of the end zone for the touchdown and a 28-21 lead with 5:34 left in the third.

“What a play, what a play,” Napier said. "It was a great throw. We always talk about throwing it in the back line above the hairline — great placement. Man blitz, zero coverage. We went with the pass, a tight-set pass. We typically speed break and run the ball. We got the call we practiced all week and it was man-to-man and he won his matchup.”

It was the latest example of LeBlanc’s large contributions as a true freshman. On the season, the former Catholic High of New Iberia standout has 24 receptions for 218 yards and two scores.

For the record, LeBlanc also delivered multiple blocks on Bradley’s catch-and-run to reach the 1.

“Peter is a guy — it’s never too big for him,” Napier said. “You think about what he was able to accomplish as a high school player in the program he came from, he played in big games. He’s comfortable in that setting.

“He’s going to be a really, really good player here. He’s a guy who didn’t have an extensive history as a receiver, but he’s picked it up quickly. He’s a competitive. I think he’s got a bright future in front of him.”

Respect for defense

The first meeting between UL and Appalachian State was a defensive slugfest the Mountaineers won 17-7.

Consequently, it’s no big surprise UL’s offense developed a healthy respect for the Mountaineers’ defense.

The group is led by an excellent linebacker corps. Jordan Fehr leads the way with 90 tackles, including eight for losses and 2.5 sacks. Akeem Davis-Gaither has 85 tackles, including 13.5 behind the line and 4.5 sacks.

D’Marco Jackson, meanwhile, has 52 tackles with 6.5 stops behind the line and three sacks.

“They’re just tenacious,” UL senior right guard Kevin Dotson said of the ASU defense. “They get after the ball. They’re going 100 percent to the point where if you stop blocking that person has the possibility of coming back and making the tackle. They’re not stopping just because the ball ran past them. They’re going back. They’re trying to run it down.

“They’re doing everything they need to do to get to the ball. We just have to be more finishers on blocks and things like that. They’re a hard-working team. They’ve been taught to always go after the ball no matter what. No loafing on plays. They’re good at what they do.”

Gardner return big

UL senior linebacker Ferrod Gardner is expected to return to action Saturday at Appalachian State after missing his first game of the season last Saturday against ULM.

Even more than his playmaking abilities, Napier said it’s his maturity level and communication skills that the defense missed the most.

“I think cohesion’s the big thing,” Napier said. “Communication at that position is very important, right, the ability to mix and match players in the lineup — who plays with who. Certainly he’s a guy who’s more a veteran player.

"So when Jacques is out maybe he plays, so that you got a veteran communicator in there and that can help align the front seven better. I’d say that’s the biggest thing is cohesion, and the opportunity to roll the players a certain way. We missed that a little bit.”

For the season, Gardner has been credited with 38 tackles and three quarterback hurries.

Depth really was key

From Day 1 of fall camp, it was emphasized as possibly the single biggest reason to believe the 2019 Ragin’ Cajuns would make their mark this season.

The depth, especially in the secondary, was better than it’s been in a long time.

Through 11 games, that was certainly proven to be true. In the regular-season finale, it was clearly illustrated how important that depth really was.

Levi Lewis delivered in clutch again for Cajuns in capturing historic 10th victory

Safety Percy Butler was out with in injury and then colleague Cameron Solomon was ejected in the first half for targeting. Suddenly a five-man safety rotation was down to three.

“It was definitely different,” senior safety Deuce Wallace said. “But obviously all season, we’ve been getting the same amount of plays. So for two guys to go down — one with injury and one with getting a targeting call — it makes a difference when your play count goes up.

“We got through it with communication, probably more than normal. Usually, Bralen (Trahan) and I have a pretty good understanding of the defense. But once fatigue sets in and you’re tired, you’ve got to make sure you’re on the same page. It even showed a couple times as we weren’t able to communicate with our corners and it hurt us.”

Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.