Cajuns take ground game to next level

Tim Buckley
The Daily Advertiser
UL running back Trey Ragas runs the ball Thursday against Arkansas State in Jonesboro.

JONESBORO, Ark. — One game ago, its ground game was bottled up.

But UL let the genie out of the bottle Thursday, rushing for 315 yards and five touchdowns in a 37-30 ESPNU-televised win at Arkansas State here.

It did so largely on the legs of senior running back Raymond Calais, who had 144 yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries, and junior running back Elijah Mitchell, who rushed 23 times for 109 yards and another two TDs.

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Trey Ragas had the other TD for UL, which improved to 5-2 overall and 2-1 in Sun Belt Conference play one week after Appalachian State beat it 17-7 by slowing the vaunted Cajun rushing attack.

UL went into Thursday’s game second in the country in yards per carry, trailing only Oklahoma.

“I think this offense in general, we felt like, as a staff, we could have done a better job,” UL coach Billy Napier said after the win, “and certainly I think a lot of the players felt like maybe they could play better.”

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Count the running backs chief among them, and especially Calais, whose 80-yard run down the left side in the second quarter helped give UL a 21-10 lead in the second quarter.

Calais also closed with a 38-yard TD run with 3 minutes and 18 seconds remaining.

“It wasn’t just me, I will tell you that,” the Cecilia High product said. “It was definitely the five o-linemen in front of me and the receivers blocking for me.

“But as far as me just hitting the hole, I saw it and I made the most of it.”

The 80-yard run was Calais’ fourth of 68 or more yards in the last two seasons, a list that includes a 72-yarder in UL’s win over Arkansas State last year, a 92-yarder against Georgia State last year and a 68-yarder in a win over Liberty earlier this season.

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“You get Raymond to the second level, it’s a lot of fun to watch,” Napier said. “Ray’s a guy who I am so proud of, man.”

Calais’ touchdowns were the 12th and 13th of his career, and his rushing yards were the most for a Cajun this season.

He’s now had three multiple-TD career rushing games.

Mitchell’s TDs, the second of which extended UL’s lead from 24-20 to 30-20 with 6:19 to go, were his 10th and 11th of the season, and 27th and 28th of his three-year career.

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He’s now had eight multiple-TD games.

And Ragas’ TD, an 11-yard in the second quarter, was his seventh of the season.

The amazing thing: Calais and the Cajuns did it against a totally unexpected defense, as Arkansas State, which usually runs a four-man front but is injury-decimated on the d-line, shockingly changed things up.

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“Arkansas State came out in a complete different defense tonight, which was unexpected,” said Napier, whose Cajuns are now off for more than two weeks.

“They came out in a three-three stack, a three-safety structure, which was a little bit unique. We did not practice or prepare for it.

“So I think it was a great job by our offensive staff of making adjustments,” he added, “and we certainly kind of the found the right plays, and got the ball to the second level, and those guys did a great job finishing.”