South Alabama WR Jalen Wayne
Photo | Mike Kittrell
They had been here before. and for a while, it seemed South Alabama had positioned itself for yet another close win. The Jaguars, who faced a 20-point deficit early in its Sun Belt Conference opener against Louisiana last Saturday night at Hancock Whitney Stadium, had the Ragin’ Cajuns right where they wanted them.
But this time, the big play didn’t happen. Twice. This time, the Jags found themselves on the losing end of a 20-18 decision, despite a strong second half of play and not allowing Louisiana any points after the 11:23 mark of the second quarter.
The fourth quarter was ruled by South Alabama and twice the Jaguars had a chance to take the lead. A 61-yard pass from Jake Bentley to Jalen Tolbert had put the Jags deep in Louisiana territory, and with 6:20 left to play, head coach Kane Wommack and his staff, facing a fourth down-and-1 play at the Louisiana 4 and trailing by two points, chose to go for the touchdown. The play call worked to perfection, with tight end Lincoln Sefcik slipping off the line of scrimmage unnoticed and into a wide-open space on the right side of the end zone. But Bentley’s throw was short and low and the pass landed incomplete, turning possession over to the Cajuns.
A short possession led to the Cajuns punting the ball back to South Alabama. Once again, a big pass play — this one a 34-yarder from Bentley to Jalen Wayne — put the Jags deep in Louisiana territory. From there, South Alabama, in field goal range, became more conservative in its play-calling, staying on the ground and keeping the ball near the center of the field. With 1:06 left to play, kicker Diego Guajardo, who kicked a 47-yarder that gave the Jags a victory at Bowling Green in the season’s second game, came on the field to attempt a 37-yard field goal. The kick slipped just outside the right upright.
Guajardo had his first extra-point attempt in the first half blocked, and a later PAT try hit the right upright and bounced harmlessly away. A two-point try failed, meaning South Alabama scored no points following touchdowns in the game.
The loss dropped South Alabama to 3-1 overall and 0-1 in Sun Belt play. Louisiana, who lost its season-opener at Texas, has now won four straight and is 2-0 in the league.
Despite the loss, Wommack was upbeat following the game.
“I’m really pleased with our football team right now and excited about what we were able to do,” he said. “Think about that situation. You have a team here with our history and we were down 20-0 against a standard-bearer in our league, a team that’s won the Sun Belt West [Division] for three straight years, and we went out and kicked their ass in the second half.
“It was really exciting to see that our guys were able to operate with a neutral mindset even when they were down like that and try to win a football game. We played winning football in the second half, and by far, that’s the best football we’ve played all season long. If you’re really process-oriented and you don’t worry about outcomes, you should be fired up about that football game right now. I’m fired up.”
Louisiana started strong, ripping off an 87-yard kickoff return to the Jags’ 13 to start the game. A few seconds later, Smith scored on a 10-yard run and the Cajuns led 7-0. On their second possession, the Cajuns used the running game to move the ball again, scoring on a 22-yard keeper by quarterback Levi Lewis and in less than four minutes led 14-0. They made it 20-0 early in the second period on a 15-yard scoring run by Emani Bailey.
Before the half ended, the Jags used a 1-yard Bryan Hill scoring run to cut into the Louisiana lead, but the blocked PAT left the score at 20-6. Hill returned at the 4:20 mark of the third quarter to score on a 2-yard run. The PAT failed and South Alabama trailed 20-12. With 12:51 to go, Bentley scored on a 1-yard run, but the two-point try was unsuccessful, leaving the score at 20-18.
This marked the sixth consecutive win Louisiana has posted against the Jags. South Alabama travels to Texas State this Saturday to take on the Bobcats in another Sun Belt West matchup.
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