It wasn’t a thing of beauty for much of the first half.

But once UL’s powerful running game got the Texas State defense on its heels, the Ragin’ Cajuns steamrolled the Bobcats for the seventh time in seven meetings with a 31-3 homecoming victory Saturday at Cajun Field.

Neither team scored in the first quarter and a half of play, but the Cajuns’ defense continued to display marked improvement and the running game posted another big total with 296 yards to spearhead the blowout win.

UL’s win got the Cajuns to 6-2 overall, 3-1 in league play and officially bowl eligible. Couple that with Arkansas State’s win over ULM and the Cajuns left the field in sole possession of first place in the Sun Belt West division with four games left to play.

Texas State’s offense was limited to 17 first downs, 206 yards rushing and 58 yards passing.

Despite the slow start, UL finished with 24 first downs and 479 total yards.

Elijah Mitchell led the way with 126 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, followed by Raymond Calais with 83 yards on 21 carries.

Prior to UL catching its stride, however, scoring points was like pulling teeth for both offenses in the first half.

After two punts in their first two possessions, the Cajuns got a little aggressive at the end of the third drive by going for it on fourth-and-two from the Bobcats’ 38, only to be stuffed for no gain.

So with 10:42 left in the second quarter, UL’s offense had just mustered four first downs and 109 total yards.

Fortunately for the Cajuns, their defense was fully cooperating. Defensive coordinator Ron Roberts’ crew forced punts on each of Texas State’s first four possessions. During that stretch, the Bobcats managed to collect five first downs and 80 total yards.

Midway through the second quarter, the Cajuns were finally able to hit two big plays and made it work. First came a 19-yard completion to Jalen Williams to the Bobcats 39.

One play later, Mitchell broke loose for a 39-yard touchdown run with 6:28 left until halftime to give the Cajuns a 7-0 lead.

Apparently, that was all Texas State’s offense needed to get going, responding with a 10-play, 60-yard drive in 4:44 to cut into UL’s lead.

The drive was helped by a pair of 15-yard face-mask penalties and ended with a 33-yard field goal by Joshua Rowland with 1:46 left until intermission.

The Cajuns had three timeouts left after the third-down stop, but elected not to use one. UL’s offense then ran the ball seven times in the next 10 plays to get into field-goal range in its “two-minute offense.”

Completions of seven yards to freshman tight end Neal Johnson and a 9-yarder to senior tight end Neal Ralston aided the drive that ended with Stevie Artigue making a 46-yarder on the first half’s final play for a 10-3 lead.

The first-half statistics certainly illustrated the struggle the game’s first 30 minutes were for both offenses. The Cajuns posted 11 first downs, 145 rushing yards and 76 passing yards with 14:13 time of possession.

The Bobcats (2-6, 1-3), meanwhile, settled for nine first downs, 21 yards rushing and 84 passing in 15:47 time of possession.

UL’s offense was without starting right tackle Robert Hunt and running back Trey Ragas. Leading receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley also played, but on a limited basis. Those absences likely explained the conservative approach UL employed late in the first half.

Another factor working against the Cajuns was penalties. Texas State wasn’t penalized in the first half, while UL had six flags for 60 yards.

One thing that did go well for UL in the first half was winning the toss and deferring.

That paid huge dividends on the first drive of the second half. Mitchell ran extra yards for gains of 16 and 11 to get the drive going, before Calais added a 10-yarder himself.

Two plays later, a nifty stop-and-pass toss to tight end Nick Ralston for a 24-yard touchdown and a 17-3 lead with 12:43 left in the third quarter.

Ralston now has seven receptions for the season and four have gone for touchdowns.

The Cajuns, who will next play at Coastal Carolina on 6:30 p.m. Thursday on ESPNU, continued to lean heavily on the running game on their next possession, which began after Michael Jacquet’s interception at the UL 17 thwarted a potential Texas State scoring drive.

UL unleashed a 12-play, 83-yard scoring drive in 5:42 to take control of the game at 24-3.

Mitchell had runs of 11 and 14 yards on the drive and Chris Smith finished it off with a 24-yard touchdown run. Smith finished with 46 yards on seven carries.

Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.