Second Half Struggles: Cajuns Fall to Houston by a Touchdown in the Game’s Final Seconds
The day you have been waiting for is finally here Cajuns fans. It's game day and the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns took on the Cougars of Houston. The Cajuns came into the Independence Bowl with a 6-6 record representing the Sun Belt Conference and the Cougars came in with a record of 7-5 representing the American Conference. This matchup featured two teams with opposite strengths. The Cougars are known for their high-octane offense and their big pass play ability. The Cajuns have relied on defense all year long as they boasted a top-50 defense for the majority of the season. It was the Cajuns and the Cougars fighting for the right to call themselves independence Bowl Champions, here is how it all went down.
The Cajuns methodically moved the ball down the field on the first drive as they worked their way deep into Cougar territory. The Cajuns faced a fourth-and-two and Desormeaux dialed up a pass to Lance Legendre to pick up the first down. Chandler fields would continue his efficient passing attack as he would hit Errol Rogers to set up a first-and-goal from the four. The Cajuns faced third-and-goal when Chandler Field scrambled around to find Johnny Lumpkin in the back of the end zone for a beautiful toe-tapping touchdown. The Cajuns drained almost half the time in the first quarter to go up 7-0 on Houston.
Clayton Tune would come out as quarterback for the Cougars' first drive of the game. The Cougars were able to move the ball just past mid-field before the Cajuns forced a third-and-three and Kendre Gant would come up big as he would sack Tune to force a Cougar punt.
Fields and the Cajun offense would come out firing on their second drive as they quickly moved near mid-field with a pass to John Stephens Jr. The drive would stall and the Cajuns would have to punt it back to Tune and the cougar offense, and that is how the first quarter would come to an end.
The Cougars opened the second quarter with a nice drive as Tune used his arm to get Houston into Cajun territory. The Cajuns' defense would continue to harass Clayton Tune as KC Ossai would sack the Houston QB to set up a third-and-long. The Cougars would go for it fourth-and-short but the Cajuns wouldn't budge as they stopped Houston and would take over on downs.
The Cajuns continued to look balanced on offense as a nice explosion of run and pass would get the Cajuns deep into Cougar territory. The Cajuns would go backward on first down, but Fields would get the Cajuns into field goal distance and Kenny Almendares would get it done from 42 yards out to make it a 10-0 ball game with 9:35 remaining in the first half
The Cajuns' defense came out with the same intensity they have played all season long as they forced a three-and-out. Eric Garror, as he has done all season long, would take full advantage of the punt as he had a big return to get the Cajuns all the way to the Cougar 33-yard-line. The Cajuns couldn't move the ball very far but they didn't need to as they would settle for another 42-yard attempt from Almendares. His kick was up and good to make it a 13-0 game with 7:05 remaining.
The Cougars would try to get something going on offense but the Cajuns weren't going to make it easy on them. Houston faced a fourth-and-short in their own territory but Tune would get the pass away to move the chains to keep the drive alive. The Cougars found some life on offense after the conversion as Tune would complete two deep passes to Carter to get into the end zone to make a one-score game. Houston miss the PAT so the score stayed 13-6 with 3:00 remaining in the half.
The Cajuns would work their way to mid-field but they were faced with a fourth-and-one. The Cajuns made the decision to go for it from mid-field but they forced the Cougars to jump off-sides and the drive would continue. The Cajuns couldn't get very far before facing another fourth-and-two and Desormeaux would decide to go for it again. Chris Smith would get the carry and get the first down. Fields would hit Lance Legendre to get inside the 12-yard-line and more yardage would be tacked on for roughing the passer to make it first-and-goal from the six. The Cajuns would take one shot at the end zone but it would fall incomplete and force an Almendares kick. He hit his third field goal of the day the make it a ten-point game with 2 seconds remaining. The Cougars would let the clock run out and go into the half trailing the Cajuns 16-6.
The Cougars would start the second half with the ball and they come out as they did on their last drive of the first half as they quickly moved their way into Cajuns territory. The Cajuns would hold the Cougars on third-and-long but a penalty on the Cajuns would move the chains and keep the drive alive. Houston would take full advantage of the opportunity as they would drive to set up a first-and-goal from the two which they would convert on the very next play for a touchdown from Tune to Del. The score would make it a 16-13 Cajun lead.
The Cougars continued to build on their momentum as they would force the ball loose from Chris Smith and Houston would recover deep in Cajun territory. The Louisiana defense came back onto the field and forced a fourth-and-short but Tune would connect with Matt Byrnes to move the chains and keep the drive alive. Three plays later, the Cougars would fan another fourth-and-short. The Cajuns would come up big and stuff Campbell to take over on downs with 4:54 to go in the third quarter.
The Cajuns were starting to get back rhythm on offense before a penalty would set them back to third-and-long. Houston would force Louisiana to punt and get nice yardage on the return to set the Cougars up deep in Cajuns' territory. Tune would hit a couple of different Cougar receivers to set up a first-and-goal. The Cajun defense would continue to apply pressure on the Houston QB as Tune would be sacked to set up third-and-goal from the 16. That is how the third quarter would come to an end.
The fourth quarter started with a pass interference call on the Cajuns that give the Cougars a new set of downs but once again the Cajuns forced a third-and-goal. The Cajuns would stuff Henry at the goal line to force a Houston field goal. The 29-yard-field goal was up and good to make it a tie-ball game with 13:40 left in the game.
Zeon Chriss would check into the game at quarterback for the Cajuns after Chandler Fields went into the medical tent after the last Cajun drive. With a new quarterback under center, the Cajuns turned to Smith and a churned his way for a big first down. That play would spark the best drive the Cajuns had in the second half as they moved into Cougar territory. The Cajuns would face fourth-and-one, but the Cajuns would move the Chains with a pass from Chriss to Neal Johnson. Chriss would break a long run on the very next play to set the Cajuns up with first-and-goal, but Chriss would lose the ball on the next snap and Houston would recover with 8:32 remaining.
The Cajuns' defense would do what it's been all day long and that is stuffing the Cougar offense. The Cougars would move the chains one time before having to punt it back to Louisiana. A bad punt from the Cougars would give the Cajuns good field position. Chriss would stay in the game and the Cajuns were on the move again as they worked their way into Cougar territory. The drive would stall and the Cajuns were forced to punt it back to the Cougar offense with 2:59 left to play.
A big run from Tune would give the Cougars a nice chunk of yardage out near mid-field. Back-to-back holding penalties would move the Cougars back and set up first-and-thirty. Tune would hit Carter once again to get a big gain out to the Cajun 30 to move the chains. The Cougars kept the momentum going as a good run from Henry would get Houston into field-goal range. Tune would use his legs to get the Cajuns' 13-yard-line. Tune would Hit Dell for the 13-yard touchdown to take their first lead of the game with 20 seconds remaining to make it 23-16.
The Cajuns couldn't get anything going with 20 seconds remaining and that is how the Independence Bowl would end. It was a season of highs and lows for the Cajuns but they showed their toughness. The Cajuns fall to 6-7 and the season and the Cougar finish at 8-5. The season may be over for the Cajuns but the future looks bright.