9/26/20 Sun Belt Football Roundup

9/26/20 Sun Belt Football Roundup
The new Sun Belt Conference logo was revealed in May 2020. (Source: Sun Belt Conference)

#19 Louisiana 20, Georgia Southern 18

Louisiana-Lafayette transfer kicker Nate Snyder had missed three of his four collegiate field goal attempts in the Ragin' Cajuns' first two games, but head coach Billy Napier didn’t lose confidence.

“I watch him every day, and he’s lights out,” Napier said after Snyder’s 53-yard field goal on the game’s final play gave No. 19 ULL a 20-18 Sun Belt Conference win over upset-minded Georgia Southern here Saturday. “You can see the leg talent when he kicks off. He’s a very talented young man who had just made some technical errors. You don’t make a 53-yarder if you don’t have confidence.”

The Ragin' Cajuns (3-0, 2-0 Sun Belt) looked on the way to their first loss when Georgia Southern quarterback Shai Wertz hit Khaleb Hood with a 28-yard touchdown pass and Dalton Anderson with a two-point conversion with 54 seconds left to give the Eagles (1-1, 0-1) an 18-17 lead.

ULL quarterback Levi Lewis completed three passes for 47 yards in a desperation final drive, including an 18-yarder to running back Trey Ragas to the Eagle 36. From there Snyder, who hit a 25-yard field goal late in the third quarter to tie the game but missed a 34-yarder at the end of the first half, lined up for easily the longest field goal try of his college career.

“I knew that we would be able to drive down and get a kick,” the Indiana transfer said. “I just felt like it was going to be a long one and thinking I really needed to hammer the ball. The misses I’d had, I’d been trying to aim it.”

His game-winner was down the middle with room to spare to give the Cajuns their third straight comeback win.

“The second I hit it, I knew it was good,” Snyder said. “I was halfway to the sideline before it went through.”

Lewis, who threw for 290 yards, including connecting with Errol Rogers on a 27-yard touchdown pass with 10:34 left to give ULL its first lead at 17-10. The Cajuns dodged a bullet when Eagle receiver Beau Johnson fumbled through the end zone for a touchback at the end of a 57-yard completion that was ruled a touchdown and overturned on replay with 2:48 left.

Werts, who threw for a career-high 255 yards and completed his final seven passes, led a 61-yard drive in the final two minutes that he ended with his scoring pass to Hood. After a time out, Werts evaded one tackler before hitting Anderson for the two-point conversion.

Werts set up the Eagles' first score with a 61-yard pass to Wesley Kennedy III before J. D. King’s two-yard scoring run on the first play of the second period. The Cajuns, who were missing eight starters mostly due to coronavirus quarantines, came back with an 83-yard drive and Ragas scored from 10 yards out to make it 7-7 at halftime.

“We played a little short-handed,” Napier said. "We didn’t pay with near the roster we had in the opener (a 31-14 road win over then-ranked Iowa State), “but we had a lot of players who played for the first time that stepped up and had a significant role. I’m proud of the young guys that stepped up.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Georgia Southern: The Eagles' option attack took a back seat Saturday to the arm of Werts, whose previous career high was 190 yards passing. He had four completions of 30 or more yards.

Louisiana-Lafayette: The Ragin' Cajuns rallied from behind for a third straight time after trailing Iowa State at halftime and going into overtime before downing Georgia State last weekend. Lewis has now thrown for 569 yards in ULL’s last two games.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

ULL will likely drop in the poll even with the victory, since Big Ten Conference teams will start being ranked in next week’s AP poll.

BALL CONTROL

Georgia Southern controlled the ball for more than 35 minutes, was 8-of-14 on third downs and had six drives of 50 or more yards, but got no points out of three drives inside the ULL 25-yard-line. “They had a good plan and they force you to do a lot of things,” Napier said. “The option and the play-action challenge your eye discipline and creates issues, and Werts is a dangerous player.”

UP NEXT

Georgia Southern returns to the state of Louisiana next Saturday to face Louisiana-Monroe. ULL is open next Saturday and will travel to meet Appalachian State in a Wednesday, Oct. 7, game that matches the preseason Sun Belt favorites in the West and East Divisions.

#18 BYU 48, Troy 7

Zach Wilson threw for a career-high 392 yards and two touchdowns, leading No. 18 BYU to a 48-7 victory over Troy on Saturday night.

Wilson’s previous career high was 317 passing yards against Western Michigan in the 2018 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Against Troy, he completed 23 of 28 passes and rushed for a pair of touchdowns while helping the Cougars (2-0) pile up 664 total yards on offense.

It was the most total yards BYU posted against an FBS opponent since recording 681 yards against Houston in 2013. The junior credited his teammates for turning routine plays into something special.

“As a quarterback, I can honestly say a quarterback is always as good as the guys around him,” Wilson said. “I’m fortunate to have a great 10 guys that rally around me. I can make the easy play and they can make it a big play.”

Dax Milne and Gunner Romney combined for more than 250 receiving yards. Milne led BYU with a career-high 140 yards and a touchdown on a career-best seven catches. Romney added a career-high 138 yards on five receptions. They gave the Cougars a pair of 100-yard receivers in the same game for the first time since 2015.

Troy (1-1) simply could not keep up with BYU after the first quarter. Gunnar Wilson threw for 162 yards, but was sacked four times. The Trojans totaled just 181 yards.

“I just like the way our guys played tonight,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “There was a lot of energy and you could feel it from the sideline. I loved the way they responded to the fact no fans were going to (be here.)”

Troy wasted an opportunity to seize a quick lead early in the first quarter. The Trojans got the ball on the BYU 22 after Milne muffed a punt, but could not turn the turnover into points. Payton Wilgar stopped B.J. Smith an inch short of the first down marker on 4th-and-1 from the Cougar 13 to keep the Trojans off the board.

“We just didn’t play good, didn’t coach good,” Troy coach Chip Lindsey said. “Tonight, we were basically dominated in all three phases. We had some opportunities early. We had the turnover, didn’t take advantage of it. Didn’t get it on fourth down.”

BYU scored its first touchdown late in the first quarter by converting a red zone fourth down. Masen Wake punched it in from 1 yard out on a fullback dive on 4th-and-goal, giving the Cougars a 7-0 lead.

A pair of huge catches by Romney facilitated both of BYU’s second quarter touchdowns. The junior receiver hauled in a diving 41-yard catch that set up a 1-yard keeper by Wilson, then gained 52 yards on a catch-and-run to set up a 10-yard scoring grab by Isaac Rex. His big plays helped the Cougars extend their lead to 21-0.

Once BYU’s offense got cooking, it never cooled down. The Cougars racked up 318 total yards before halftime and extended their lead to 31-7 on a 70-yard bomb from Wilson to Milne two plays into the third quarter.

“There’s no right answer against us and that’s with any good offense,” running back Lopini Katoa said.

BYU has outscored its first two opponents 103-10 and outgained those teams 1,244 to 330 in total yardage.

Defense remains a work-in-progress for the Trojans. BYU averaged 8.6 yards per play while rolling up 524 yards through the first three quarters. Troy visits South Alabama on Saturday.

Boston College 24, Texas State 21

Boston College coach Jeff Hafley told his team all week to expect the game against Texas State to come down to the wire.

For some reason, they believed him.

Trailing 21-7 to the three touchdown underdog, Boston College scored 17 straight points to beat the Bobcats on Saturday night, tying it up with 1:11 left and then taking its only lead of the game on Aaron Boumerhi’s 36-yard field goal with 3 seconds to play.

“We didn’t take them for granted,” Hafley said after winning his Chestnut Hill debut in an empty Alumni Stadium. “I told the team we were going to win it in the fourth. That’s how we’re going to play. I respected our opponent, and we went out and did that."

One year after losing to Kansas, also a 21-point underdog, BC (2-0) again seemed headed for another embarrassing loss when Phil Jurkovec was forced to throw the ball away on third down from the Texas State 16.

But a late hit out of bounds gave the Eagles a first down, and two plays later Jurkovec hit Hunter Long from 5 yards out to tie it.

“I looked at (Jurkovec) at the end, on those two drives, and said, ‘This is what we’ve talked about. Go play ball, man. Just let it rip,’” Hafley said. “And he did.”

BC’s defense forced a three-and-out that used up only 15 seconds, and the Eagles got the ball back on their own 33 with 47 seconds left. Jurkovec completed five straight passes to move BC to the 19; the Bobcats (1-3) called all three of their timeouts to try to get into Boumerhi’s head.

“That was something else. It’s very rare there are three timeouts left at that point in the game,” said Boumerhi, who had a kick blocked in the first quarter. “I was kind of expecting it. What else are they going to do with them?”

A Notre Dame transfer, Jurkovec completed 26 of 38 passes for 210 yards, with one touchdown and one interception; he also ran in BC’s first two scores, from 2 and 3 yards out. Long caught nine passes for 81 yards for the Eagles, who entered the game as a 21.5-point favorite.

Brady McBride threw for 229 yards, connecting with Marcell Barbee for two touchdowns as the Bobcats never trailed until the final field goal. McBride started the season-opening loss to SMU but then sat out the next two games because of COVID-19 protocols.

Texas State punted on its last four possessions, and its last two were its only three-and-outs of the game.

The Bobcats have never beaten a team from a Power 5 conference since moving up to the FBS in 2012. The Sun Belt Conference school last beat a team from a top league in 1986, when it beat Rice 31-6 while the Owls were in the Southwest Conference.

UTEP 31, ULM 6

Deion Hankins rushed for three touchdowns and UTEP held Louisiana-Monroe to 7 yards rushing in a 31-6 victory on Saturday.

Hankins' first touchdown, a 2-yard run, came on the play following an 82-yard pass from Gavin Hardison to Jacob Cowing. Hankins set up his second TD with a 37-yard run, scoring two plays later from the 1. Hardison threw a 38-yard pass to Devaughn Cooper to begin the third scoring drive that ended with Hankins' 8-yard score. Gavin Baechle’s 42-yard field goal with 21 seconds left in the half made it 24-0.

Hankins rushed for 118 yards on 22 carries. Hardison was 13-of-25 passing for 302 yards with Justin Garrett collecting 120 yards receiving and Cowing 102.

Coby Suits threw a 35-yard score to Jahquan Bloomfield in the final minute of the third quarter to cap a 55-yard drive that began after a UTEP fumble. Up till then, the Warhawks didn’t have a drive exceed 12 yards. Suits finished with 184 yards passing with a TD and an interception.

The victory has UTEP (3-1) off to its best start since its 2010 team started 5-1. It also gave the Miners their most wins in a season since 2014 when they finished with four.

ULM (0-3) is limiting fan capacity to 25% at 30,427-seat Malone Stadium. Saturday’s announced attendance was 5,491.

Appalachian State 52, Campbell 21

Daetrich Harrington rushed for career highs of 211 yards and four touchdowns and depleted Appalachian State beat Campbell 52-21 on Saturday.

On Friday, Appalachian State (2-1) announced that three players had been confirmed with COVID-19 and, as a result, 18 other players were quarantining after contract tracing.

Campbell (0-3), one of 17 FCS schools playing fall games, grabbed the lead for most of the first half before Harrington’s second touchdown, a 2-yard run with 24 seconds left before the break, gave the Mountaineers a 17-13 lead. Those points came on the third of eight straight scoring drives.

Harrington, a junior, already had 107 yards rushing by halftime with two scores. His four TDs were the most for the Mountaineers since Armanti Edwards had four against Furman in 2009.

Nate Noel finished with 131 yards and a touchdown in his collegiate debut. The Mountaineers rushed for 404 of their 535 yards offense.

Campbell quarterback Hajj-Malik Williams scored two rushing touchdowns in the first half. The Camels' final points came late on a Wiley Hartley-to-Austin Hite 87-yard pass play.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, attendance was limited to 350 family members of players.

The Camels have one game remaining on their four-game fall schedule. The Big South Conference gave members the option of playing four nonconference fall games with the intent of playing a league schedule in the spring.

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