LAFAYETTE, La. — Arkansas State made progress Saturday in head coach Blake Anderson’s estimation, just not quite enough to knock off Louisiana-Lafayette.
The Ragin’ Cajuns drove 61 yards in six plays after the Red Wolves pulled into a fourth-quarter tie, scoring the winning touchdown with 1:13 left in the game for a 27-20 Sun Belt Conference victory at Cajun Field.
While ASU (3-5, 1-4 Sun Belt) has lost three consecutive Sun Belt games for the first time since 2009, the Red Wolves were far more competitive against UL Lafayette (6-1, 4-1 SBC) than they were in back-to-back 28-point losses to Appalachian State and Troy.
“I’m proud of the guys and how they grew up this week, how much better we played across the board,” Anderson said during his postgame radio interview on the Red Wolves Sports Network. “That’s a really good football team we just played and we gave them everything, and that’s just not what we looked like a week ago.”
Down 20-12, ASU drove 91 yards in four plays to tie the score. Layne Hatcher found Brandon Bowling over the middle on a 47-yard touchdown pass with 2:24 remaining, then rolled away from the pass rush to throw the game-tying two-point conversion pass to Jonathan Adams Jr.
The Ragin’ Cajuns started their next drive at their 39 after a short kickoff. Levi Lewis completed three passes and Trey Ragas and Elijah Mitchell broke two runs for a combined 36 yards as UL Lafayette quickly moved to the ASU 2-yard line.
The Red Wolves allowed Mitchell to score on a 2-yard run with 1:13 remaining so they could get another possession.
“If they had been a little bit deeper out I would have used timeouts and made them kick a field goal, because they’ve struggled there, although they did a good job today,” Anderson said. “But when you get that close, it’s a chip shot, and we were just afraid they’re going to run the clock all the way down and milk our timeouts, and we’re not even going to get the ball back.”
ASU picked up a couple of first downs on its last drive, but the Red Wolves stalled near midfield and Logan Bonner’s fourth-down pass was intercepted with 21 seconds to play.
The Red Wolves led 6-0 at halftime after limiting the Cajuns to 108 total yards in the first two quarters.
ASU closed the half with a goal-line stand, stopping UL Lafayette on downs when linebacker Justin Rice dropped Dontae Fleming for a 5-yard loss on fourth down from the 1.
Blake Grupe missed a 21-yard field goal on ASU’s first possession, but made a 24-yard attempt later in the first quarter and a 35-yard attempt in the second.
“We just really focused on getting better this week. We didn’t talk about wins and losses at all. There is no record, it was, ‘We’ve got one game and we want to be 1-0,’” Anderson said. “What we really wanted was to play a complete game. We have not done that all year on defense and we’ve struggled obviously the last couple of weeks to do that on offense. Just play a complete game and the defense did a phenomenal job setting the tempo early.”
Freshman running back Lincoln Pare finished with 121 yards on 22 carries in his first start for ASU. Bonner was 16-of-30 passing for 127 yards while Hatcher was 5-of-10 for 97 yards. Adams caught eight passes for 95 yards.
UL Lafayette got its offense going after halftime, finishing with a 440-423 advantage.
Lewis drove the Cajuns 63 yards to start the second half, scoring on a 33-yard run to give his team a 7-6 lead. Fleming extended the Cajuns’ lead to 14-6 at the 5:56 mark of the third period, taking a pass from Lewis 52 yards down the sideline and into the end zone.
ASU scored its first touchdown with 10:37 to play when Jamal Jones plunged across the goal line from four yards out. The two-point conversion attempt was picked off by Percy Butler to preserve the Cajuns’ lead at 14-12.
Redshirt freshman Kenneth Almendares, who had never made a field goal in his career entering the contest, extended UL Lafayette’s lead to 20-12 with makes of 35 yards and 43 yards on back-to-back drives.
ASU hosts Louisiana-Monroe next Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m.