Britney Spears has nothing on Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns football team.
One of the state’s notable contributions to pop culture is seeking a comeback after some trying times. She’d do well to use the Cajuns as an example.
When the Kentwood product recorded “Oops! … I Did It Again” more than two decades ago, she was a harbinger of things to come for the Ragin’ Cajuns, who keep on doing it again and again and again.
Saturday night’s 49-21 romp over Eastern Michigan, one in which UL trailed 14-0 at a halftime break that rivaled any for strangeness, was the Cajuns’ 15th consecutive win. That’s twice as many as anyone in the country, with Clemson’s eight straight victories the next closest figure.
That’s plenty impressive, as is the 11 straight victories at Cajun Field and the fact that UL has gone more than a calendar year since falling 38-18 at Texas in the 2021 season opener. It’s equally extraordinary that UL has won 26 of its last 28 games, losing only to the Longhorns and falling 30-27 to Coastal Carolina on some shaky late calls and a last-play field goal midway through the 2020 season.
But how they’ve done it is even more remarkable.
In the current 15-game win streak, no fewer than 10 times has there been a one-score difference at some point in the fourth quarter. Four times UL has trailed in the fourth quarter including twice in which they’ve been behind with less than three minutes left.
The Saturday score may have looked more like a beatdown than a heart-stopper, but that’s only because of the final margin. For all but the closing minutes, the win over the Mid-American Conference Eagles fit into the “Baby One More Time” scenario (yes, Spears circa 1998) that has defined the UL football program for three-plus seasons.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been more proud of a team in my life,” said first-year coach Michael Desormeaux after UL rebounded from nearly-unrecognizable first-half struggles to nearly-frightening efficiency in the game’s final 28 minutes. “It went about as bad in the first half as it could have gone. It was frustrating. But in that locker room the calm on our team was just remarkable.
“They sat down, they listened to the adjustments we were going to make and the plans we were going to run in the second half, and they just came out and executed. I think there’s a lot of value in winning games like this.”
Composure was hard to imagine around the time darkness hit on Saturday. UL already trailed 7-0 and had way more penalty yards than offensive yards (80 to 58) by the time referee Greg Sujack sent the teams up the Cajun Field tunnel with an announcement that lightning from a storm cell had moved too close for comfort.
Then, when play resumed after a 63-minute delay, Eastern Michigan promptly drove 88 yards on 12 plays and scored five seconds before intermission to take a two-touchdown lead. But after being forced to punt from just inside EMU territory to start the second half, the Cajuns proceeded to score seven offensive touchdowns on seven straight possessions in just over 23 minutes — something almost unheard of without benefit of defensive or special-teams scores.
“I feel like this was a great experience for the guys who haven’t been playing,” said junior safety Kam Pedescleaux, who with his Cajun teammates will be visiting his Houston hometown to face Rice in the season’s first road game Saturday. “The guys who haven’t been here now know what it feels like to come from behind, and now they believe that this team can stay together and win.”
Pedescleaux’s interception — one of three by the Cajun secondary in the second half and one of five UL takeaways in the final 27 minutes — came just after Chris Smith’s bouncing 20-yard touchdown run on the opening play of the fourth quarter provided the first lead of the evening at 28-21.
Along with beginning a run of 35 unanswered points for the home team, that pickoff sparked another streak.
The Eagles did their own remake of the “Oops!” anthem, doing it again and again and again and again — turning the ball over a shocking four times on their 16 fourth-quarter snaps.
Less than four minutes after Pedescleaux’s theft of EMU quarterback Taylor Powell — who completed his first six passes and had been solid in the first half — Chandler Fields found tight end Neal Johnson with a 19-yard scoring strike to provide a two-touchdown advantage.
Three minutes later, backup quarterback Ben Wooldridge hit a wide-open Pearse Migl for a two-yard score.
That gave Cajun tight ends three TD catches on the night after Johnny Lumpkin’s third-quarter catch from Fields tied the game at 14.
That’s five in two games for UL’s tight-end room. It may be only coincidence that Desormeaux coached the tight ends before replacing Billy Napier in the head-coach seat last December prior to the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl win … or that former popular Cajun assistant and LSU offensive analyst Jorge Munoz oversees that room again in his return to Acadiana as associate head coach … or that current offensive analyst Parker Orgeron also works with the tight ends and had his father and South Louisiana coaching icon Ed Orgeron watching from one end zone corner Saturday.
Coincidences aside, there’s no question that UL’s offense has the potential to be just as potent as the record-setting campaigns of the last two years when quarterback Levi Lewis led the squad to 10-1 and 13-1 records and two more of what is now four straight Sun Belt Conference West Division titles.
Fields bounced back from a shaky first half (2-of-7 passing, 18 yards) to throw for 123 yards and three scores in the final half.
Meanwhile, Wooldridge was almost perfect in his four series, completing 12 of his 13 throws for 169 yards and two more touchdowns with his only incompletion coming moments before his 36-yard over-the-middle strike to John Stephens, Jr., tied the game at 21 with four minutes left in the third quarter. That was the first of five unanswered touchdowns as the Cajuns kept going “Gimme More” (yes, Spears, 2006).
“I told y’all we had two good quarterbacks,” said Desormeaux, who should know after his own record-setting Cajun career less than two decades ago. “Nobody wanted to believe us. Chandler is our starter, but Ben’s just so detailed. He understands things inside and out and he prepares his tail off to go out there and go play well. I truly believe we’re better in the long run for what we’re doing right now.”