Relentless Ragin' Cajuns defense worked the cut in win at Appalachian State
Playing like a successful prize fighter, the Ragin’ Cajuns defense never rested Friday night.
The punches weren’t all perfect, but the relentless approach paid as nationally ranked UL prevented Appalachian State from a late score and left Boone, North Carolina, with a 24-21 win over the Mountaineers.
“Work the cut, man,” outside linebacker/defensive end Chauncey Manac said. “We’ve got a boxer mentality: Just never quit, man.”
The purse: UL’s first win over App State in nine tries.
On Sunday the Cajuns also moved up from No. 21 to 17 in the Amway Coaches Poll and jumped from No. 20 to No. 17 in the Associated Press Top 25. It is the highest ranking in school history.
Credit Manac, in large part, for all that as he came up with an interception and six tackles including 2.0 for loss.
“He was disruptive,” Cajuns coach Billy Napier said.
“You know, Chauncey is one of those guys, man, who really has grown up as a person, and he’s really improved as a football player. He’s gonna have a great future in front of him. Really proud of the way he competed.”
Manac was hardly alone, though, as cornerback Mekhi Garner, inside linebackers Ferrod Gardner and Lorenzo McCaskill and the starting three up front – defensive lineman Zi’Yon Hill, Tayland Humphrey and Andre Jones – were among several leaving a mark.
Yet in a game running back Trey Ragas produced three touchdowns, rushing for two and catching a Levi Lewis pass for another, and in a crazy game during which Paul Boudreaux delivered one high snap after another over punter Rhys Byrns’ head and holder Dalen Cambre’s hands, the convincing case from first-year coordinator Patrick Toney’s unit seemed somewhat lost amid all zaniness.
Napier noticed, though.
“I couldn’t be more complimentary of our defense,” he said.
“I felt like this time last year we were fading a little bit, and I feel like that we’re really getting better (now). There were a lot of unbelievable individual performances on defense. But, as a whole, man, they were exceptional. Got takeaways, made critical stops in the red zone. Incredible.”
Garner also had an interception. McCaskill, with help from Gardner and Ja’Quane Nelson, forced an fumble Hill scooped up. Gardner finished with a team-high 10 tackles, Jones and Humphrey seven apiece. Gardner teamed with Manac for a late, fourth-down sack of Zac Thomas.
Manac – a super heavyweight at 6-foot-3, 251 pounds – went up high for interception and came down twisting, prompting him to laughingly say, “I’m getting old, man.”
“I had … two or three of the same exact picks in practice,” the fifth-year senior said, “and I feel like practice is how you play.
“I just waited (for) my opportunity and God put me in the right position.”
Manac credited the sack to “play-calling and just knowing my strengths and weaknesses, just reading the lineman and what he was gonna do.”
“I (saw) his weight going back,” he said, “I just felt like I had to go with speed to power, and I felt like it worked it.”
But Garner later got called for pass interference near the end zone as Appalachian State tried to win it in the waning seconds.
Cornerback Eric Garror defended one incomplete pass and Thomas missed Jalen Virgil on the next, however, forcing a 30-yard field goal that Chandler Staton missed wide left with one second left.
“Credit the defense,” Napier said.
“They got a stop, forced a field goal and then the guy missed the kick.”
On a cold, wet, windy night in Boone, that was all the Cajuns (9-1, 7-1 Sun Belt Conference) needed to celebrate all they had endured – and finally beating App State.
“It just felt like the older days – rec league ball, you know?” said Manac, an ex-Georgia redshirt who transferred to UL from Garden City (Kansas) Community College.
“I was just having fun out there, to be honest. I wasn’t worried about the cold, rain. It didn’t really matter. … You can put the ball down anywhere. I just want to play.”