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Louisiana football improves but opens season with close loss to Mississippi State

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The Ragin' Cajuns makes a tackle on Mississippi State's Tommy Stevens (7) during the Mississippi State game on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019.

The Louisiana football team fell short on a valiant comeback against the Mississippi State Bulldogs to lose their first game of the 2019 season 38-28.

The Ragin’ Cajuns defense, which gave up 56 points in the meeting of the two teams last season, proved to be stronger and better prepared to face the SEC foe to start this season.

After giving up a touchdown on the first drive of the game, Louisiana forced two fumbles, stopped Mississippi State on a fourth-down conversion, and received the gift of a missed field goal from the Bulldogs on consecutive possessions.

All of these stands early helped to keep the game close in the first half.

The offense struggled early in the game, giving away three turnovers, but two touchdown drives kept the game tied at 14 until the final drive of the first half.

An 11-play, 82-yard touchdown drive for the Bulldogs to end the half gave them a 21-14 lead going into halftime that they wouldn’t relinquish for the rest of the game.

Mississippi State took advantage of another turnover by the Ragin’ Cajuns and extended their run to 21 straight points with two touchdown drives, opening up a 35-14 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Louisiana did their best to get back into the game with two impressive touchdown drives in the fourth quarter — a nine-play, 69-yard drive and a 14-play, 99-yard drive — to cut the Mississippi State lead to 35-28 with just under three minutes left to go in the game.

With three timeouts, instead of kicking off and giving the defense another opportunity to make a stop and give the hot Ragin’ Cajuns offense a chance to have a shot to tie in regulation, head coach Billy Napier attempted an onside kick.

However, the ball went out of bounds and gave the Bulldogs the field position they needed to barely sneak a 37-yard field goal through the right post to stretch the lead to 10 points with only one minute left to go in the game.

Even though Louisiana lost, their ability to fight until the end showed improvement from last season. The offense had five turnovers but showed flashes of brilliance in their touchdown drives, and the defense made plenty of big plays to keep the game close.

Starting quarterback junior Levi Lewis completed 24 of his 39 passing attempts for 267 yards along with one touchdown and two interceptions. Lewis’ first throw of the season was an interception, and his last throw was intercepted in the endzone once the game was over, but he did a good job of showing he could lead the offense. He also showed great escapability and poise in the pocket, running for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Junior Jamal Bell and senior Ja’Marcus Bradley were standouts for the Ragin’ Cajuns wide receivers. Bell led both teams with eight receptions for 113 yards and Bradley recorded six receptions for 93 yards including a contested 32-yard reception.

The trio of running backs showed flashes of their success from their stellar 2018 season. Senior Raymond Calais led the way with 79 rushing yards on nine carries. Sophomore Trey Ragas had nine carries for 63 yards and a touchdown, and Elijah Mitchell finished with a team-high 14 carries for 31 yards and a touchdown run.

Up next, Louisiana looks to pick up their first win in their home opener Sept. 7 against the Liberty Flames, who lost their season opener 24-0 to nationally ranked No. 22 Syracuse.

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