Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns head coach Billy Napier watches his team play against the Iowa State Cyclones at Jack Trice Stadium. The Ragin Cajuns beat the Cyclones 31 to 14.   Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

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UTSA, No. 19 Louisiana get call for First Responder Bowl

Louisiana didn’t get a chance to play for the Sun Belt Conference championship.

The No. 19 Ragin’ Cajuns are trying to prevent that disappointment from adversely affecting their performance against UTSA in the First Responder Bowl on Saturday on the SMU campus in Dallas.

Louisiana (9-1) flew to South Carolina last Thursday to play Coastal Carolina for the Sun Belt title, but returned home the next day after the game was canceled due to COVID issues within the Chanticleers’ program.

Both teams were declared co-champions.

“We’ve got to take that anger and frustration and disappointment and move forward and use those things as fuel on the fire to get ready to play,” Cajuns coach Billy Napier said. “We’ve got a very competitive culture here. We’ve got a very competitive group of people.”

The Cajuns opened the season with a 31-14 road victory against No. 10 Iowa State and have the best 10-game record in school history.

They have won the Sun Belt West division and played in a bowl game in each of Napier’s three seasons as head coach. That success led to Napier being a candidate for coaching vacancies at South Carolina and Auburn, but Louisiana announced this week that Napier is staying put.

Louisiana’s defense has forced at least two turnovers in each victory this season. The only time it failed to do that was in a 30-27 home loss to Coastal Carolina on Oct. 14.

The Roadrunners are 7-4 in coach Jeff Traylor’s first season. A victory over the Cajuns would be the first bowl victory for a school that is making just its second appearance in a bowl and it would tie the school-record for wins in a season.

UTSA was originally scheduled to play SMU in the Frisco Bowl, but the Dec. 19 game was canceled due to COVID issues in the Mustangs’ program.

The First Responder Bowl stepped in and invited the Roadrunners, who gladly accepted but had to wait five days to learn that Louisiana would be their opponent.

“What an awesome opportunity,” Traylor said. “I’m just so thrilled for our players, coaches and staff to be playing in a bowl game.”

The UTSA program is in just its 10th season. The school tied an NCAA modern startup program record by reaching a bowl game in just its sixth season, losing to New Mexico 23-20 in the 2016 New Mexico Bowl.

The Roadrunners finished second in the Conference USA West division with a 5-2 conference record.

“We’re building something special here,” quarterback Frank Harris said. “Coach Traylor is doing a great job of instilling a culture. We are following it now and seeing the results.”

UTSA set school records for total offense (624 yards) and rushing yards (443) in their last game – a 49-17 victory against North Texas on Nov. 28. It was the second consecutive game that the total offense record was broken.

“I think we finished the (regular) season out in the right way,” said running back Sincere McCormick, who had a record 251 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

–Field Level Media

Field Level Media
Sport Writer & Editor
FLM has a North American focus while tying into regional and hyper-local resources – providing the ability to distribute compelling content through the writing of professional journalists. As the U.S. sports content provider to dozens of digital and print media publishers through strategic partnerships with the likes of Reuters and Nielsen Sports, FLM covers the nuts and bolts with a breaking news desk and game event coverage.

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