Ragin’ Cajuns just tough enough in win over Georgia State

ATLANTA — In a game in which Louisiana-Lafayette gave up nearly 500 yards to winless Georgia State, a Ragin’ Cajuns defender left the field at the Georgia Dome with the biggest smile.

Junior linebacker Trae Johnson had 10 tackles, including a key fourth-down stop of Panthers running back Kyler Neal at the Cajuns’ 16-yard line early in the fourth quarter, which helped preserve a seven-point lead and propelled UL-Lafayette to a 35-21 win Saturday afternoon.

It was the eighth consecutive victory for the Cajuns, who are steadily closing in on a Sun Belt Conference championship.

UL-Lafayette (8-2, 5-0) are alone in first place with two regular-season games to go. The Cajuns have a open week before hosting Louisiana-Monroe on Nov. 30.

A win against the Warhawks will guarantee UL-Lafayette at least a share of the Sun Belt title.

As for Saturday’s game, nobody left Atlanta happier than Johnson. Except, perhaps, third-year Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth.

“That’s what we’ve been waiting for out of Trae Johnson for three years,” Hudspeth said.

Johnson had been replaced in the starting line up by fellow junior Darius Barksdale, who sat out this week with an injury. But Hudspeth and the defensive staff gave Johnson the nod over sophomore Tyren Alexander at the starting weakside linebacker spot.

“(Barksdale) went down and the coaches trusted in me,” Johnson said. “On that fourth-down play, it was just a lot of film study and trusting our (defensive scheme).”

But UL-Lafayette needed quite a bit of offense to overcome Georgia State (0-10, 0-5), which played far better than its record.

Junior quarterback Terrance Broadway and freshman running back Elijah McGuire supplied plenty of it.

Broadway completed 10 of 16 passes for 234 yards and four touchdowns, while McGuire rushed for 107 yards on 11 carries and caught three passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns to lead the charge.

The Cajuns scored on their second possession when McGuire came in motion, grabbed a short flip from Broadway on a jet sweep, turned the corner and outran the Georgia State secondary for an 80-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

UL-Lafayette eventually built a 21-7 lead after an interception by Trevence Patt at the 1-yard line snuffed out a long Georgia State drive midway through the second quarter. On the Cajuns’ ensuing possession, Broadway used his legs (he carried twice for 34 yards) and his arm (he completed both pass attempts for 59 yards) to lead the offense on an 11-play, 99-yard drive, capped by a 50-yard scoring strike on a post route to Darryl Surgent.

But Georgia State didn’t go away. The Panthers took over on their 25-yard line shortly before halftime and moved to the UL-Lafayette 42-yard line. On fourth-and-3, quarterback Ronnie Bell scrambled left and found freshman tight end Keith Rucker behind the Cajuns secondary for a touchdown with 14 seconds left, pulling Georgia State to within 21-14 at the break.

The Panthers then tied the score on their second possession of the third quarter. Slotback Albert Wilson capped a 10-play, 70-yard drive when he took a swing pass around the left side and scored from 22 yards out.

But UL-Lafayette went up for good on its next possession, as McGuire took a short pass from Broadway and darted 36 yards down the far sideline to put the Cajuns back on top 28-21 with a little over three minutes left in the third quarter.

Shortly thereafter, Johnson made his big stop. On a fourth-and-3 inside the Cajuns’ 20-yard line, he brought down Neal 1 yard short of the sticks.

The Cajuns then drove 86 yards in seven plays. Broadway’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Jamal Robinson along the far sideline sealed the win. Robinson was originally ruled to be out of bounds on the play, but the call was reversed on replay.

“Coming off the field, they realize that that’s a good young team,” Hudspeth said of Georgia State. “They are just learning how to win right now, but I thought they played hard and they raised their play today and really gave us a tough time at times.”

But the Cajuns were tough enough to win.