Billy Napier closes out Louisiana career vs. Appalachian State
Billy Napier has one more thing to accomplish at Louisiana.
The 24th-ranked Ragin’ Cajuns (11-1, 8-0) have won the Sun Belt Conference West Division title in each of Napier’s four seasons as head coach and lost in the championship game twice.
After seeing last year’s championship game against Coastal Carolina canceled because of COVID-19, Louisiana hosts the Sun Belt title game for the first time when it faces Appalachian State (10-2, 7-1) on Saturday in Lafayette, La.
Napier, who was named head coach at Florida on Sunday, will coach the Cajuns on Saturday in search of their first title game victory. It’s undetermined whether he will coach them in their bowl game. The winner of Saturday’s game goes to the New Orleans Bowl.
“We set out to build a program that would make this University and Louisiana proud,” Napier said.
Louisiana lost its season opener at Texas, 38-18, but has won a school-record 11 games in a row, tying the win total under Napier two years ago.
The distraction of Florida’s courting of Napier was nothing new to the Cajuns. Napier has been a frequent target the last couple of years. Last year he reportedly spurned overtures from two other SEC schools – South Carolina and Auburn.
“It hasn’t been difficult,” safety Kam Pedescleaux said. “I feel like as a team we don’t really focus on those outside things.”
One of reasons for Napier’s lack of interest in other jobs a year ago was that Louisiana was returning 20 starters and expected to have a chance to succeed as it has.
“We know that this group is special,” Pedescleaux said. “All we want to do is bring a championship to Lafayette.”
The Cajuns, who went undefeated in Sun Belt play for the first time, defeated the Mountaineers 41-13 on Oct. 12 in Lafayette.
“After the Louisiana game we came back and we regrouped,” Appalachian State head coach Shawn Clark said. “We didn’t coach well in that game and we didn’t play well in that game.”
The Mountaineers have won six straight since then. The streak started with a 30-27 victory at Coastal Carolina and each of the subsequent victories has come by at least 24 points.
“We’ve been performing at a high level these last couple weeks, and I think that just goes to our preparation,” linebacker D’Marco Jackson said.
The Mountaineers are coming off a dominant defensive effort in a season-ending 27-3 home victory against Georgia Southern last Saturday. They had four sacks and allowed just 194 yards. They’ve allowed a total of just 31 points in their last four games.
“We went back to keeping things a little simpler,” Clark said. “We have really been rallying to the football, getting 11 hats to the football and playing fast. That has shown the last four or five games.”
Like Louisiana, Appalachian State is a very experienced team. The Mountaineers have a group of seven sixth-year seniors who have been part of compiling a 62-15 record.
“This is the third time (the Sun Belt Championship Game) has been played, and it’s been us and Louisiana the whole time,” Clark said. “I think it’s big any time you can have a chance to play for championships and that’s what we sell in our programs.”
–Field Level Media