Ragin’ Cajuns demolish lackluster liberty

No. 22 Louisiana was the highest-ranked team to ever enter Williams Stadium, and the Ragin’ Cajuns showed why they deserved that ranking, hammering the Flames 42-14.

It was a cold, cloudy evening in Williams Stadium Nov. 20, and less fans than usual were in attendance, just 15,564. This is due to the game coming a day after the university’s Thanksgiving Break period began.

Liberty won the coin toss and rather perplexingly, chose to receive. However, the Flames’ reason for the decision became evident when D.J. Stubbs lateralled the ball to Demario Douglas, who stormed out to midfield to put the Flames in good field position.

The Flames gradually advanced down the field and a fourth down conversion put the Flames into Louisiana territory. However, the drive ended abruptly when Louisiana’s Andre Jones forced a fumble and recovered the ball from Liberty’s Shedro Louis.

Louisiana failed to do anything with the fumble, going three and out, but a muffed punt gave the Ragin’ Cajuns possession in the red zone.

Fortunately for the Flames, the error did not result in points. Louisiana kicker Nate Snyder’s effort from 29-yards went wide right, keeping the game tied.

Neither team crossed midfield for the next three drives; Liberty and Louisiana’s defense refused to concede significant yardage.

Eventually, Louisiana started to gamble. Two Louisiana fourth downs and two fourth down conversions later, the Ragin’ Cajuns put the first points on the board with quarterback Levi Lewis’ pass to wide receiver John Stephens Jr.

In the second quarter, Louisiana made it two straight touchdown drives, when receiver Kyren Lacy leaped above the defender, coming down with the ball to make it 14-0.

Two drives later for Liberty, the Flames seemed to be progressing with a solid completion to Louis, but a sack set the Flames up to punt.

That punt however, turned out to be a disaster for the Flames. Max Morgan was unable to wield the snap, and as he tried to force a punt, Louisiana’s Dalen Cambre stole the ball, taking the fumble into the end zone to extend the lead to 21.

Finally, the Flames ignited on the ensuing drive. Willis threw backwards to Stubbs who launched a pass to Louis for 45 yards. Liberty continued its march down the field, and Willis’ pass on the post route found receiver Kevin Shaa for the Flames’ opening score, cutting the deficit to 14.

Quarterback Malik Willis threw for 162 yards and two touchdowns. (Photo by Chase Gyles)

Feeling the momentum shift, Liberty’s Aakil Washington ripped down Louisiana quarterback Levi Lewis with authority on third down, with the sack forcing a punt.

Willis willed the Flames down the field again with a series of runs up the middle, but guard Jacob Bodden’s hold canceled Willis’ touchdown run, moving the Flames backward. Lineman Tristan Schultz held on the next play, meaning the Flames had first and goal from the 22.

Then, two sacks pushed the Flames out of field goal range, and on 4th and 44 the offense punted, extremely disappointing for Liberty given the team was two yards from the end zone.

Following the halftime break, Louisiana started with the ball, but the Flames’ defense stood tall. A sack pinned Louisiana near its endzone, and the Flames readied on offense.

Flying down the field, Shaa burned defender Eric Garror for his second touchdown, making the score 21-14. Both of Shaa’s two touchdowns came from Shaa running the post route against Garror.

Shaa admitted that he and Willis had practiced that route leading up to the game.

“You know, they were both the same route, two post routes,” Shaa said. “We were working that all week to get the defender’s hips turned and (then to) burst out on the route.”

Shaa caught two touchdown passes on post routes. (Photo by Andrew Snyder)

Only up by one score, the Ragin’ Cajuns responded quickly. A deep pass to receiver Peter LeBlanc and a defensive pass interference call in the end zone put the Ragin’ Cajuns at Liberty’s 1-yard line. Running back Montrell Johnson found the end zone two plays later to put Louisiana up 28-14.

Willis’ pass on the next drive was picked off – at the line of scrimmage Willis’ pass was batted down and intercepted. While the play did undergo extensive review, the camera angles did not show enough evidence either way, so the call stood. Louisiana took possession at the Flames’ 12-yard line.

After the game, Willis laughed it off, noting his disagreement with the call.

“I mean, they batted one ball and it hit the ground and they called it a pick,” Willis said.

Nothing resulted from Louisiana’s next drive, however. On fourth down, the Ragin’ Cajuns elected to go for it and Lewis’ pass hit the ground.

Sparked by the defensive stand, T.J. Green broke out of a tackle, running for 43. Unfortunately for the Flames, the drive would abruptly end when Louisiana’s A.J. Riley picked off Willis.

This time, Louisiana did capitalize on the interception with receiver Neal Johnson’s two-yard touchdown catch extending the Ragin’ Cajuns’ lead to 21.

Liberty was able to convert a fourth down once on the next drive, but the second time the Flames faced fourth down, Willis was sacked for a turnover on downs.

Louisiana took time off the clock as they gradually drove down the field, with running back Emani Bailey’s touchdown rush putting the Ragin’ Cajuns up by 28.

Johnathan Bennett checked in at quarterback for the Flames’ final offensive drive, and it came to a gloomy end when he threw an interception on fourth down. Louisiana kneeled on the last possession of game, and it ended 42-14 Louisiana.

After the game, head coach Hugh Freeze expressed his disappointment in the result.

“We did not play well today,” Freeze said. “We didn’t coach well. That’s the first game since I’ve been here that I feel like we did not compete. That’s very disappointing. I shared that with our team. It’s a very disappointing night. I hate it for our fans. I hate it for our administration. I hate it for our school. We take pride in competing for 60 minutes, and something was off tonight. Ultimately, that’s my responsibility.”

Next week, the Flames take on Army. Army runs a triple-option offense, something which gave the Flames issues in the team’s last meeting in 2018. The Black Knights won that game 38-14 and went on to be ranked No. 19 in the AP Poll that year.

Liberty (7-4) takes on Army (7-3) at Williams Stadium, Nov. 27 at 12 p.m.

Luke Randle is the Sports Editor. Follow him on Twitter @lukerandle02

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