Lions, Ragin’ Cajuns renew in-state football rivalry in 2017 season opener

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Cajun Field in Lafayette, La.

Southeastern Louisiana (0-0) at UL Lafayette (0-0)
Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017 | 6 p.m. | Cajun Field (41,426 – Lafayette, La.)
Series History: UL Lafayette leads 18-17-3
Last Meeting: SLU 7, UL Lafayette 0 | Sept. 12, 1981 | Lafayette, La.

Television: ESPN3
Announcers: David Saltzman and Bobby Carpenter

Radio: Southeastern Sports Radio Network (KSLU 90.9, Kajun 107.1, The Highway 104.7, WFPR 1400)
Announcers: Mark Willoughby, Robbie Rhodes and Allen Waddell

HAMMOND, La. – In a matchup nearly four decades in the making, Southeastern Louisiana and UL Lafayette will renew a once annual rivalry in the season opener for both teams Saturday at 6 p.m. at Cajun Field.

The meeting between the Lions and the Ragin’ Cajuns is the 39th in a storied rivalry, but the first since 1981. UL Lafayette has the slight edge, 18-17-3.

The teams met every season from 1946-72. SLU enjoyed a period of dominance from 1951-65, holding a 13-0-2 advantage during a 15-year unbeaten stretch in the rivalry. The Ragin’ Cajuns answered by rolling off seven consecutive victories from 1966-72.

“This is a great opportunity for our fan base to be able to travel to see us play an FBS opponent,” Southeastern sixth-year head coach Ron Roberts said. “There’s a lot of tradition for our alumni in this rivalry. It will be a tremendous environment for us to play in.”

UL Lafayette is one of two in-state FBS schools that Southeastern has not faced since the program returned from an 18-year hiatus in 2003. Saturday’s game and next season’s trip to LSU will give Southeastern at least one matchup with every in-state FBS opponent.

Roberts is eager to see how his Lions match up with a talented Ragin’ Cajuns squad.

“UL Lafayette will be the most talented team we see all year and is a team that has consistently gone to bowls in recent years,” Roberts commented. “This will be an excellent gauge of where we are at as a football team and in what areas we have to continue to grow as we move closer to Southland Conference play.”

The Lion offense will have a new quarterback under center on Saturday, as both of 2016’s signal callers – D’Shaie Landor and Justin Alo – were seniors. Sophomore Lorenzo Nunez, a transfer from South Carolina, and junior Donovan Isom, who started two games as a redshirt freshman in 2015, have been embroiled in the preseason’s most high-profile position battle.

“We plan on playing both of them,” Roberts said. “We feel like both Lorenzo and Donovan have earned the right to continue to compete and have opportunities in live-game situations. We have confidence in both of them and we’ll go with whoever has the hot hand.”

Whichever Lion winds up taking the most snaps under center will have a wealth of talent to work with. For Southeastern it all starts up front for Southeastern, as senior guards Travis Romero and Michael Vick, as well as sophomore center Shaq McClain all return after starting in 2017. An already capable group of tackles was bolstered by the addition of Maea Teuhema late in fall camp.

The SLU offensive line will clear the way for a deep backfield that includes junior Julius Maracalin, senior Eugene Bethea, junior Darren Johnson, senior Darius Durall and freshman Delmonte Hall. Nunez and Isom will have several top targets returning in the passing game, highlighted by senior Juwan Dickey, an All-Southland Conference selection in his debut season in Hammond.

The Lion offense will be going against a defense led by UL Lafayette defensive coordinator Mike Lucas. Lucas was with Southeastern from 2005-11, serving as the defensive coordinator for the Lions for the first two seasons and taking over as head coach for the final five years of his tenure in Hammond.

Lucas’s charges include senior free safety Travis Crawford, whose 71 tackles are the most by any UL Lafayette returner, while sophomore Joe Dillon (12.5 TFL, 7.0 sacks) is a stalwart on a formidable and veteran-laden defensive line.

Like the Lions, UL Lafayette will have a new quarterback leading the way, as junior Jordan Davis is slated to make his first start for the Ragin’ Cajuns. Top target Keenan Barnes (31 catches, 418 yards, 6 TD in 2016) returns to highlight the UL Lafayette passing game.

Southeastern will counter with a defense that will be led by the senior linebacker trio of Sione Teuhema, Lee Spight and Jake Jiannoni. In the defensive backfield, All-Southland performers Max Lyons and Torrance Mosley both return, along with fellow seniors Ryan Sigers, Mayori Ellison and Jeff Williams II among others.

Following Saturday’s contest, the Lions will return home to host Bethune-Cookman next Saturday at 7 p.m. in Strawberry Stadium. The game will be televised by Eleven Sports Network and streamed live on the Southland Digital Network.

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