If you look up the definition of a seesaw battle in the dictionary, the film of UL’s 30-27 loss to Coastal Carolina on Wednesday at Cajun Field would be a great illustration.
Like the memorable 15-round heavyweight fights of yesteryear, the No. 21-ranked Ragin’ Cajuns and visiting Chanticleers exchanged blows for over three hours on national television.
They traded touchdowns, big defensive plays and even costly, untimely penalties.
Unfortunately for the Cajuns, one aspect of the game UL never could match was Coastal Carolina’s control of the clock.
That allowed the Chanticleers to eat up all but 4 seconds of the final 5:30 to keep the Cajuns from delivering one final counterpunch.
“What a football game, huh?” UL coach Billy Napier said. “Two good teams, and certainly the margin of error was small out there.
“A lot of credit goes to Coastal Carolina for their level of execution.”
The two teams began the back-and-fourth battle with touchdowns on both opening drives to make it 7-7 after the first quarter.
Then both defenses rebounded to force a few punts in consecutive possessions.
Then right on script, both offenses finished the first half with touchdown drives.
Both kickers even missed extra points.
It was almost like the old commercial, “Anything you can do, I can do better.”
Fittingly, it was 13-13 at the half.
Just when it appeared Coastal Carolina had seized the momentum with a 16-play, 75-yard drive in 8:12 to grab a 20-13 lead.
Refusing to distort the script, the Cajuns immediately responded with a seven-play, 66-yard drive of its own in 2:56 to tie the game at 20-20 entering the fourth quarter.
Of course not everything was identical. The methods were slightly different.
The Chanticleers ate up clock, while the Cajuns scored quicker.
The production was roughly the same. Coastal ended up with 23 first downs and 414 total yards, compared to UL’s 19 first downs and 413 total yards.
But Coastal’s more methodical style rattled off 72 offensive plays to eat up 38:11 on the clock, while UL’s more quick-strike attack settled for 55 plays and 21:49 off the clock.
“I think we’ll know more after we watch the tape,” Napier said. “I do think the tackling could be a little better, but they stress you. They did go for it on fourth down backed up their on their first possession of the second half and converted. We had our opportunity. I think that’s what we’ll see when we see the tape.”
Both teams made mistakes, but the Cajuns made one or two too many. One was a Levi Lewis interception at the Cajuns’ 26-yard line that kept UL from gaining momentum and led to another Coastal touchdown for a 27-20 lead with 14:12 left to play.
On the flip side, UL cornerback AJ Washington had an opportunity for an interception on Coastal's next drive and couldn't haul it in.
“There’s always a handful of plays where he can play better or be a little more accurate or make a better decision,” Napier said. “He (Lewis) made some mistakes tonight, much like I made some mistakes tonight and certainly every player and coach in our organization. So I think it’s part of playing quarterback. You’re never going to play the perfect game.”
But in the true seesaw theme of the game, Lewis followed his biggest mistake with his greatest individual effort.
Three plays into the next drive, Lewis delivered a career-best 51-yard run down to the 1 on a scramble to help UL tie the game 27-27 with 12:44 left to play.
“What a play with third down-and-six there at midfield where he pulls the ball down and breaks the pocket vertical,” Napier said. “I mean, you could just see that the guy was completely consumed with competing in the game. He had just thrown an interception and that was the next possession, and you could just see it when he scrambled and ran that ball. This guy meant business. I’m proud of the way he responded.”
Then came the craziest back-and-forth of the game. With UL punting with 6:51 left in a tie game, the Chanticleers were flagged for having two players wearing No. 6 jerseys on the punt play.
The five-yard flag was enough to get the first down.
What a costly penalty for the visitors.
The problem for the Cajuns was they gave it right back. It helped the seesaw trend of the contest, but crippled UL’s chances at being 4-0 for the first time since 1988.
Instead of a third-and-1 from the Cajuns’ 37, UL was flagged for a false start to complicate the gift possession.
And once Rhys Byrns delivered his second 46-yard punt of the possession, Coastal’s offense embarked on a 5:26 drive to end it.
The Chanticleers were apparently tired of the tennis match. They basically picked up their ball and went home.
“Those are two critical plays in the game,” Napier said. “A third-and-short when we get a false-start penalty. Then obviously the interception that led to a touchdown. These are things that we’ve been working on. We’ve had those issues. I think we’ve got to get them fixed. We’ve got to coach better and try to eliminate those.
“They cost us tonight. They cost us an opportunity tonight. The things we’re talking about are things we can learn from.”