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UL wide receiver Michael Jefferson (8) catches a touchdown against Nicholls State during their NCAA game at Cajun Field on Saturday, September 11, 2021 in Lafayette, La..

The UL Ragin’ Cajuns may not have achieved all of their pregame goals heading into Saturday’s home opener against Nicholls.

But a series of huge plays made it all work out in a 27-24 victory over the Colonels at Cajun Field.

The biggest one of all was a 67-yard interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Kris Moncrief to finally give the Cajuns a two-touchdown cushion with 46 seconds left in the third quarter.

"(Defensive coordinator) Coach (Patrick) Toney called a play," Moncrief said. "I saw Zi'Yon (Hill) getting after the quarterback. I saw him pressuring him. He (Nicholls quarterback Lindsey Scott) tossed it right at my eyes and my eyes got big. The only thing that was going through my head was 'Run, run.' That's it."

It was the first pick-six of Moncrief's career and it proved quite necessary.

UL’s defense stepped up big again by forcing a punt four plays later Moncrief’s memorable score to put Levi Lewis and Company in position to put the visiting Colonels away.

The offense responded with a 14-play, 72-yard drive in 4:10 to add to the Cajuns’ lead, but it could have been worse. For a split second, it appeared Lewis hit Thibodaux High product Kyren Lacy for a 1-yard touchdown pass, but a holding flag on UL nullified that score.

The result was a 28-yard field goal by Kenny Almendares for a 27-10 cushion with 9:34 left to play.

"Our defense held them to 24 points, we scored a touchdown in the game and certainly when it counted there, we got the fourth-and-one stop down there on the goal line," Napier said. "We did a lot of good things today. But Lindsey Scott’s hard to defend. You can say what you want to say about it, but that guy’s a heck of a football player."

That cluster of series certainly erased in the memory would could have been a nightmare for the Cajuns. On the possession prior to Moncrief’s heroic play, the Cajuns was stuffed on a fourth-and-down from their own 31 only leading 17-10 with 1:35 left in the third quarter.

That drive came after the Cajuns’ defense stuffed Nicholls on fourth-and-goal from the 1 with 3:24 left in the third to prevent Nicholls from tying the game.

Six plays later, the game had incredibly spiraled out of the control for Nicholls.

Lewis ended the game 19-of-33 passing for 304 yards and two touchdowns.

"I don’t know what the stats were, but we threw for 300 yards," Napier said. "I think that’s a good day. It’s been a long time around here since we threw for 300 yards."

Indeed, the only time the Cajuns eclipsed 300 yards passing last season was 332 at Texas State on Halloween night.

On the other side, Scott was virtually unstoppable at times, finishing with a career-high 359 yards on 26-of-37 passing and three scores in the air, while rushing for 121 yards on 18 carries

"Lindsey Scott, man, that guy's dynamic," Napier said. "I'm glad we don't have to play him again. I can promise you that. He made it very hard on us."

Colonels’ wide receiver Dai’Jean Dixon tied Mark Carrier’s school record with an 11th 100-yard game with career highs with 14 receptions for 198 yards and two touchdowns.

The Colonels put up 511 total yards to 387 for the Cajuns.

"We’re going to look back at the tape and there’s going to be a lot of things we can do better," Napier said. "But a lot of that is Nicholls had a good plan and their players played well. 

"Coach (Tim) Rebowe had them ready to play. Certainly with what they’ve been through – their community and university and certainly the players on their team with Hurricane Ida, we’ve got a lot of respect."

The game began with both offenses on fire.

The Cajuns executed a hurry-up approach in putting together a seven-play, 80-yard drive in 2:50 for a quick 7-0 lead with 12:10 left in the first quarter. An 18-yard completion to tight end Johnny Lumpkin initiated the drive and a 14-yarder to John Stephens culminated it.

Nicholls quickly responded with a three-play, 78-yard drive in 1:10 to tie it. A 53-yard connection with Dontaze Costly set up the 21-yard TD toss to Dixon to tie it at 7-7 with 10:54 left in the first quarter.

The Cajuns responded with a five-play, 21-yard drive that ended with a 46-yard Almendares field goal for a 10-7 lead with 8:20 left in the opening period.

After wasting a 13-play drive, the Cajuns put together a four-play, 99-yard drive in 2:09 to gain a double-digit lead. A 20-yard run by Emani Bailey got the drive going, a 27-yard catch by Stephens got it going and Michael Jefferson ended it with a 46-yard touchdown grab for a 17-7 lead with 5:54 until intermission.

Despite there only being one three-and-out by either offense in the first half, the only other points in the first half were a 42-yard field goal for Gavin Lasseigne with 36 seconds left until halftime to narrow UL’s lead to 17-10.

"In general, there’s going to be some things we can do better when we watch the tape," Napier said of Scott. "He’s a magician for sure."


Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.