In the regular season finale, the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns took to the road to face the Texas State Bobcats in San Marcos. This game would be important for the Cajuns because a win would put them at 6–6, good enough to secure a bowl berth. The game was favored to be the Cajuns’ sixth win, according to data from OddsShark.
Choosing to start with the wind in their face, Cajuns kickoff specialist Thomas Leo kicked the opening kickoff out of bounds. The Bobcats would capitalize with a chunk play down the field from junior signal-caller Layne Hatcher to wideout Rontavius Groves. The Bobcats stalled out and settled for a red zone field goal by kicker Seth Keller.
On the Cajuns’ first drive, Chandler Fields led the charge under center. He airmailed a pass, took a sack and handed the ball off for a one-yard gain, forcing a three-and-out. The Cajuns’ defense stepped up to the plate and forced a three-and-out of their own.
Fields would go up-tempo down the field (pun not intended) in response. Dre’lyn Washington, originally not slated to start at the running back position, picked up good yardage through the drive. The same couldn’t initially be said for Chris Smith, who was starting. In Bobcats’ territory, Smith lost yards on multiple plays until he finally broke through for an 18-yard touchdown catch from Fields on fourth down to put the Cajuns up 7–3.
When Hatcher led the Bobcats’ offense back out on the field, it looked to be a repeat of the last drive until Hatcher started to complete multiple tight-window throws in succession. Then suddenly, linebacker Jasper Williams laid a big hit on Bobcats’ tailback Damarius Good, causing a fumble, recovered by Zi’Yon Hill-Green.
The Cajuns took advantage, going no-huddle once more and driving down the field again, but they could not convert on their second fourth down attempt of the game. The Bobcats responded by going the length of the field to kick another field goal, cutting the Cajuns’ lead to one with 10 minutes left in the first half. I only know this because by the time I got back from getting the Chick-Fil-A in the stadium, the crowd roared.
The Cajuns methodically went down the field again, boosted by a chunk running play by Fields. They entered the red zone with 6:42 left to go in the half, but two penalties stalled the Cajuns at the 16-yard line, and kicker Kenneth Almendares booted it through the uprights to make the score 10–6.
Hatcher took this opportunity to throw an interception to Eric Garror which was called a pick-six initially, but it was returned to the Bobcats’ 11 after an illegal block in the back penalty. Given their field position, the Cajuns only needed two plays to score a touchdown through Dre’lyn Washington.
Texas State, in two-minute drill mode, drove down to midfield but were stopped by the Cajuns with 58 seconds left, and Garror got a good 36-yard punt return to give the Cajuns some hope for a scoring drive, and it appeared that Fields would lead the Cajuns to another easy touchdown. Fields did enough to lead Almendares to the 9-yard line of the Bobcats, where he scored to make it 20–6 at halftime.
Once halftime ended and the game resumed, the Cajuns started with good field position on a Chris Smith kick return to the 38-yard line. Fields did the rest offensively, leading the Cajuns to a touchdown via Chris Smith to make the score 27–6.
The Bobcats would respond with their first touchdown from running back Lincoln Pare, making the score 27–13. The Cajuns decided that they were so nice, they would give the ball right back on the equivalent of an arm punt. With this newfound life, the Bobcats would slowly drive the ball down the field until they were stopped at their own 43-yard line, forcing a punt.
The Cajuns were also forced to punt. Texas State turned to Pare on their next drive, due to his 215 yards of rushing to that point, but he could only take them so far before the Bobcats again had to punt at their own 42-yard line. The punt would only go about 15 yards due to a block by Cajuns wideout Dylan Cambre.
Running would be the name of the game on the Cajuns’ next drive, until Fields found wideout Peter LeBlanc for his first receiving touchdown of the game. The Cajuns lead would grow, 34–13.
Texas State gained possession of the football on the following drive but was forced to punt. Eric Garror’s punt return would be called back by penalty. The Cajuns would then chew up some clock with backup quarterback Zeon Chriss. Chriss would find quarterback-turned-wideout Lance Legendre for the first touchdown of both Chriss’s and Legendre’s career. The score would be 41–13 as I left, and the Cajuns would win convincingly to earn a bowl berth, now confirmed to be the Independence Bowl.
This was the cap to an unlikely season. Most of my peers were convinced that this would be a lost season and that we would be bad. By no means were we as bad as I had anticipated. Instead, the Cajuns were mediocre, and that’s not a bad thing for this season. We had lost so much talent, so it is fitting that we finish with bowl eligibility. I can’t wait to see what is in store for the Cajuns in 2023.