Sun Belt championship game within reach for the Cajuns

Tim Buckley
The Daily Advertiser
With a win over Troy on Saturday, Brenndan Johnson (29) and the Ragin' Cajuns could get another shot at Appalachian State and Mountaineers quarterback Zac Thomas.

The prize is within reach.

With a win over Troy on Saturday at Cajun Field, UL — 8-2 overall with four straight wins, 5-1 in league play — would win the Sun Belt Conference’s West Division for a second straight year and return to the SBC title game.

A possible rematch with Appalachian State? A chance to host?

Either is possible.

But nothing is guaranteed.

The details:UL Ragin' Cajuns vs. Troy Trojans football

If the Ragin’ Cajuns were to lose to Troy and again a week later to UL Monroe at home, and if Arkansas State were to beat Georgia Southern on Saturday and South Alabama the following Friday, the Red Wolves would represent the West in the title game.

“I think we’re all aware of that,” UL coach Billy Napier said of the opportunity at stake.

“We’ve been saying it for a couple of weeks now that we control our own destiny, and this Saturday will be no different.”

The matter of what opponent UL would face if it were to win the West — and where the title game would be played — remains unsettled as well.

Appalachian State is in the driver’s seat at 9-1 and 5-1 heading into its home game Saturday against Texas State. The Mountaineers close the following Friday at Troy.

But if App State were to stumble, Georgia Southern — which closes at home against Georgia State after visiting Arkansas State, and which handed Appalachian State its only loss of the season — could grab the top spot in the Sun Belt East.

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Based on head-to-head matchups — UL beat Georgia Southern but lost to Appalachian State — the Cajuns, if they take care of business, could host a championship game against the Eagles. But they would travel to Boone, North Carolina, for a game against the Mountaineers, who beat them twice last year.

Seeing App State again — which UL never has beaten — is something the Cajuns have been thinking about for a while.

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“We originally planned for (the title-game rematch) to be here. … But we definitely look forward to playing them in the championship,” senior linebacker Ferrod Gardner said the night UL fell 17-7 to Appalachian State in early October.

A few weeks later, senior safety Deuce Wallace was asked about the perils of looking too far ahead.

“I’m always one that wants to win them all — I want to win the rest of them — but it is important to focus (on) one at a time,” Wallace said then, when UL was one win into its current streak.

“Unfortunately we still have some guys thinking about — including myself — there’s this team we can’t seem to beat, and so we want to see them again.

“I think terms of that, that’s OK to keep them in the forefront of your mind, because that’s the objective,” Wallace added. “We’re trying to see them again. So, in order to do that we have to take (games) one week at a time.”

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Others feel differently and would rather stay home for a championship game.

“You don’t want to look too far ahead,” graduate-transfer nickel back Brenndan Johnson said, “but I know definitely it would be really special for everyone around this program and this community if we were able to get back in the conference championship, and even more if we were able to host (it).”

For some, the potential choice — rematch with App State in Boone, or title game at home — remains a matter for another day.

“We’re not really talking about it. …    Whoever comes our way, we’re gonna play them well,” senior kicker Stevie Artigue said more recently.

“We’re not hoping for anybody. We’re not … playing different scenarios in our head,” senior linebacker Jacque Boudreaux added last week. “We’re just going to week-to-week, playing one opponent at a time and focusing on us.”

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For now, then, UL is looking at a Troy offense averaging a Sun Belt-leading 39.0 points per game.

The Cajuns also are savoring the attention their current streak has afforded them, including eight voting points in this week’s USA TODAY Top 25 coaches’ poll.

That’s the 32nd-most in the country.

“It’s just a blessing for this team, blessing for this community and this program,” linebacker Gardner said this week. “It’s just a great feeling to know that we’re one of the top teams in the country and we’re definitely playing like it, and that the people are noticing it are we’re getting votes.

“We’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing, and we’ll go (higher ranked) on the list, and that’s what we want.”

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