Trailing 33-10 with 3:47 left in the third quarter, the Louisiana Ragin Cajuns mounted a comeback for the ages before falling to the Kentucky Wildcats 40-33 Saturday night in Lexington.
The Wildcats came out on fire, getting on the board on their first offensive play of the game, a 75-yard touchdown run by Stanley Williams to take a 7-0 lead. Eight minutes later, the Wildcats extended the lead to 14-0 over Louisiana with a 35-yard touchdown pass. The Ragin' Cajuns drove to the Kentucky 28-yard line before losing the ball on a fumble.
Taking advantage of the Louisiana turnover, the Wildcats went up 21-0 with a 37-yard touchdown pass from Patrick Towles.
Star running back Elijah McGuire proceeded to put the Ragin' Cajuns on his shoulders with Louisiana finally finding the scoreboard on a 13-play, 75-yard drive capped by a touchdown run from quarterback Brooks Haack. Kentucky ended the first half with a 24-yard field goal to take a 24-7 lead to the halftime break.
After a trade of field goals, the Wildcats seemingly put the game away with a five yard touchdown pass to extend the lead to 23 at 33-10 with 3:47 left in the game.
As if finally showing up for the opening game, Louisiana found a spark of life on a 56-yard touchdown run by Torrey Pierce to pull within 33-17. The Ragin' Cajuns defense forced a missed field goal by Kentucky and saw Pierce again run wild, this time for 26 yards to cut the Wildcats lead to 33-23. Jalen Nixon brought Louisiana within eight after finding McGuire for a two point conversion at 33-25.
Two plays later, the Ragin' Cajuns were again on the move with Tracy Walker picking off the Wildcats quarterback. This time Nixon found space versus the Kentucky defense with a 23-yard jaunt into the endzone to pull the ragin' Cajuns within two points again at 33-31. McGuire's name was again called with the star running back finding the endzone to tied the game at 33 with 7:36 left in the game.
Despite having an opportunity to pull out the win, the Ragin' Cajuns were unable to slow down the Kentucky offense one last time with the Wildcats punching the ball in from 12 yards out to take the final 40-33 lead with :57 left in the game.
Haack's final Hail Mary was unanswered and with that, the Ragin' Cajuns fell to 0-1 on the young season.
The Ragin' Cajuns get a small break with FCs foe Northwestern State heading to Lafayette in Week Two for an in-state matchup next week before an early season bye week.
Ragin' Cajun Positives:
Found A #2 Running Back: Torrey Pierce was expected to contend for the second running back spot but solidified all claim on the job with a 10-carry, 110-yard performance. McGuire (27/86/0TD) did the dirty work with all of the Kentucky defense keying on the junior, leaving Pierce a chance to shine.
The Comeback: When a Group of Five Conference team is playing a Power Five Conference program on the road and goes down by 23 points, that game is over. No so for Louisiana in making the full comeback before falling on a last minute touchdown. A comeback win would have been historic but falling so far behind and nearly pulling out the win should be a confidence booster for the Ragin' Cajuns.
Dual Quarterback Situation Can Work: Both quarterbacks showed off their abilities and proved that playing both quarterbacks in different situations can be good for the offense. Expect to see much more of that in the future with the Ragin' Cajuns thriving off of Nixon's dual threat ability and Haack's strong arm.
Receivers Stepping Up: Gabe Fuselier had a career high seven catches to go along with Jamal Robinson's six catches. Freshman Gary Haynes led the team with eight catches for only 38 yards but still a great starting game for a true freshman.
Ragin' Cajun Negatives:
Turnovers: No matter how well you play otherwise, turning the ball over four times cannot happen versus an SEC program. The final turnover gets a pass as it was on a Hail Mary attempt but two lost fumbles and another interception makes the hope of an upset evaporate.
Rush Defense: The Ragin' Cajuns defense had no answer for Kentucky when the Wildcats wanted to pound the ball. Kentucky ended the game with a 6.8 yards per carry average but only ran the ball 26 times on the night.
Penalties: Again, you can get away with seven penalties versus a lesser opponent but those penalty yards killed the Ragin' Cajuns late in the game. A facemask penalty in the game winning drive by Kentucky virtually killed any hope of one final defensive stop.
Player of the Game: Torrey Pierce. This award could easily be given to McGuire for his ability to help the Ragin' Cajuns in the running and passing game but Pierce's two touchdown runs from 20+ yards got Louisiana back into the game.
Play of the Game: Pierce's 56-yard touchdown run. While the score only brought Louisiana within 16 points, it also gave the team confidence that the game was not yet over.