Billy Napier, Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns use Levi Lewis TD throws, takeaways to beat Liberty

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

The Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns used three Levi Lewis touchdown throws and six takeaways to beat Liberty 42-14 on Saturday night in Lynchburg, Virginia.

The win was the 10th in a row for No. 21 UL (10-1) since a season-opening 38-18 loss at Texas.

While still playing Hugh Freeze and independent Liberty (7-4), Billy Napier and the Ragin' Cajuns also learned Saturday they will face Appalachian State in the Dec. 4 Sun Belt Conference championship.

Leading 21-7 at halftime, UL had its lead cut to a touchdown after Malik Willis hit Kevin Shaa on a 30-yard pass less than five minutes into the third quarter.

HIGHLIGHTS:Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns vs. Liberty football video highlights, final score

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The Cajuns answered with a 2-yard Montrell Johnson Jr. touchdown run that capped an eight-play, 74-yard drive. UL added a 2-yard TD pass from Lewis to tight end Neal Johnson Jr. early in the fourth quarter and a late Emani Bailey TD run to pull away.

UL took a 14-0 lead when Lewis connected with TCU transfer John Stephens Jr. on a 4-yard touchdown pass late in the first quarter and a  a 50-50 ball to Kyren Lacy from 15 yards early in the second quarter.

The Cajuns extended the lead to 21-0 after Dalen Cambre recovered a mishandled punt snap and went 26 yards with the scoop-and-score. Liberty trimmed into the UL lead two minutes later with Willis’ 29-yard touchdown pass to Shaa.

Usual UL holder Dalen Cambre ran 26 yards with a mishandled punt snap for a scoop-and-score Ragin' Cajuns  touchdown Saturday at Liberty.

Chauncey Manac was a beast

A terrific game plan by defensive coordinator Patrick Toney helped the Cajuns get difference-making pressure on Willis, a potential first-round NFL draft pick.

Willis was sacked seven times.

He sometimes danced his way out of trouble, but UL outside linebacker Chauncey Manac had four sacks in the first half alone. Two came on late first half drive in which Liberty faced first-and-goal from the 2 but  wound up punting out of fourth-and-goal from the 44.

Percy Butler has eye for the ball

Cambre’s second-quarter touchdown wasn’t UL’s only big special teams play.

Starting safety Percy Butler is a strong-tackling  NFL prospect, but it is Butler’s standout special teams play that could help him make an NFL roster.

Evidence was on display when Butler, a gunner who usually is in the right place at the right time, recovered a fumbled punt in the first quarter.

UL takeaways mattered

The Cajuns won the turnover battle 5-0.

In addition to Butler’s punt-fumble recovery and Cambre’s scoop-and-score, defensive lineman Andre Jones recovered a Shedro Louis fumble in the first quarter; Mason Narcise’s had a pinball interception after AJ Riley deflected a Willis pass; Riley picked off Willis himself in the third quarter; and Kam Pedescleaux added a late interception.

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Field goals still problematic

Napier has been reluctant to attempt field goals since starter Kenneth Almendares went down with a season-ending hip injury. The Cajuns’ second possession was a good reminder why.

Backup Nate Snyder missed a 29-yard attempt wide right and wasn’t really close. Snyder, UL’s kickoff starter, missed his first two attempts after Almendares got hurt and was 3-for-6 on the season before Saturday – a big reason the Cajuns so frequently go for it on fourth down.

O'Cyrus Torrence was missing

UL got Bailey and starting Mike linebacker Lorenzo McCaskill back from injuries but played without usual starting right guard O’Cyrus Torrence.

Torrence was “not available,” according to a UL spokesman, who did not offer a reason. He was listed on the depth chart and wasn't listed on the injury report the Cajuns released Wednesday.

With Torrence out, Lafayette High product David Hudson made his second career start and seemed to settle in by late in the opening quarter. Torrence, who rarely comes out, has started 34 of the 35 games he’s played.