Louisiana-Lafayette took another step toward the Sun Belt Western Division title Saturday on the legs of their Nos. 2 and 3 running backs.
Raymond Calais rushed for a career-high 186 yards and three touchdowns and Elijah Mitchell added 136 and another score as the Cajuns whipped Georgia State 36-22 at Cajun Field.
UL-Lafayette (5-5, 3-3) stayed on track and in control of its destiny by scoring three second-half touchdowns to pull away from the Panthers (2-8, 1-5), who dropped their fifth consecutive game.
The Cajuns, who have won four of their past six, play host to South Alabama next Saturday in the home finale and visits UL-Monroe a week later for what UL-Lafayette hopes is a winner take all for the Division title. The Cajuns are tied with Arkansas State for second behind UL-Monroe at 4-2.
“We’re in playoff mode, man, win and advance,” Cajuns coach Billy Napier said. “I thought we played better tonight in terms of how all three phases complemented each other.”
With leading rusher Trey Ragas suffering a lower leg injury in the first quarter, Calais stepped in and lit a fire under the offense. He bolted 92 yards for his first touchdown — the longest run in school history — to give the Cajuns a 7-0 lead with 4:51 left in the first quarter.
When visitors cut the lead to 16-14 in the third quarter, Calais turned right and went untouched for a 26-yard scoring run. He added a 5-yard touchdown after an interception by Michael Jacquet to boost the lead to 36-14 in the fourth quarter.
“It’s humbling to me, but I’m not harping on it,” Calais said. “I’m just trying to get these next few wins so we can hopefully play for the Sun Belt championship. When Trey went down, he told me and Elijah to pick it up. I was just trying to play for my brother.”
Calais, a 5-feet-9, 180-pound junior who entered the game as the team’s third-leading rusher, dodged Tyler Gore at the line of scrimmage, turned the left corner and outran Ed Curney to the sideline for his record-setting run. It broke the record of 90 yards by Reggie Dupre in 1970. Calais averaged 14.3 yards on his 13 carries.
“Raymond is a guy who has developed over time,” Napier said. “Not just a perimeter runner or returner, he’s got terrific vision and developed as an inside runner. He’s more physical, he’s gained weight. He’s bigger and stronger, but he’s got elite speed. We talk about getting those guys to the second level, and those guys can finish the deal.”
Mitchell showed some elite speed, too, with his 57-yard run. It’s the third time this season the Cajuns have had two backs break the 100-yard barrier and the fifth time the offense has put up 500 yards or more. UL-Lafayette had 355 yards rushing.
Quarterback Andre Nunez hit some key passes to help set up the running game. He completed 14 of 19 for 141 yards and a 32-yard scoring strike to Ryheem Malone in the first half.
Napier was complimentary of his defense and special teams. UL-Lafayette held the Georgia State passing game to 10 completions on 21 attempts and 2 of 13 on third-down conversions.
“We’re getting better leadership on defense, the young players are growing up and we’re getting healthy,”: Napier said. “A lot of good things going on over there.”