Ragin’ Cajuns close out home slate in style with 36-17 win over Georgia Southern

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Cajuns defeat GA Southern 2022 football

Almendares ties school-record with five field goals; Hill-Green ties career sack mark

LAFAYETTE – Ben Wooldridge threw three first-half touchdown passes and Kenneth Almendares tied a school record with five field goals – three of them in a 10-minute span – to boost Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns to a 36-17 Sun Belt Conference win over Georgia Southern in a Thursday night national television contest.

The Cajuns (5-5, 3-4 Sun Belt) snapped a two-game loss streak with the win in their home finale and kept alive their hopes of becoming bowl eligible with two games remaining. UL needs to win one of its final two games – at Florida State on Nov. 19 and at Texas State on Nov. 26 – to become bowl eligible for the 10th time in the last 12 seasons.

UL, winning for the fourth straight time against the Eagles (5-5, 2-4) and improving to 5-1 in the all-time series, scored on all but three possessions in the game with one turnover on downs deep in Georgia Southern territory in the first quarter, and two punts in the final two quarters – the last coming in the game’s final three minutes. The Cajuns also scored on five of their six first-half possessions, with Wooldridge ‘s three touchdown passes coming in the game’s first 19 minutes to stake the Cajuns to a 21-7 lead.

Almendares hit two field goals in the final 3:44 before halftime and then added three more in the second half from 42, 39 and 40 yards. He became the first Cajun kicker in 33 years to record five field goals in a game and joined Rafael Septien (Oct. 5, 1974 vs. Lamar) and Mike Lemoine (Sept. 9, 1989 vs. Central Michigan) as UL players with five-field-goal games.

Almendares’ second field goal, a 34-yard effort at the halftime horn that provided a 27-7 lead, came after the game’s biggest defensive play. Georgia Southern had driven to the UL 11 in the half’s final minute, but Cajun defensive end Andre Jones sacked Eagle quarterback Kyle Vantrease on third down and forced a fumble, which Mason Narcisse returned to midfield with 33 seconds left.

Wooldridge completed two passes and ran for a key 10-yard first down to set up Almendares for a 34-yard field goal on the final play of the half to provide the 20-point halftime advantage.

UL rushed for a season-high 242 yards as part of a 435-yard offensive performance, 295 of those coming in the first half. Meanwhile, the Cajun defense held the Eagles to two-of-14 on third-down possessions and allowed only seven points on three Georgia Southern red-zone possessions.

In addition, Cajun senior defensive lineman Zi’Yon Hill-Green recorded a fourth-quarter sack to tie UL’s career record for sacks. Hill-Green now has 21 career sacks, sharing the school mark with Jeff Mitchell (1992-95) and Christian Ringo (2011-14).

The Cajuns jumped to a 7-0 lead in the game’s first five minutes, holding Georgia Southern to a three-and-out and then driving 60 yards on only six plays. Chris Smith’s 14-yard burst on fourth-and-one kept the drive alive in Eagle territory, and two plays later Wooldridge found John Stephens, Jr., for a 28-yard touchdown, his third TD catch of the season.

UL’s next possession was the only one in the first half that didn’t wind up with points, when the Cajuns drove to the Eagle 3 late in the first period before Georgia Southern’s Derrick Canteen picked off Wooldridge’s pass in the end zone. The Eagles followed with a 96-yard march – their longest of the season – capped by running back OJ Arnold throwing 32 yards to Derwin Burgess Jr. to tie the game at 7-7 just over one minute into the second period.

However, UL came back only 75 seconds later to take the lead for good, with Dre’lyn Washington’s 54-yard run to the Eagle 21 setting up Wooldridge’s 18-yard touchdown pass into the corner of the end zone.

The Cajuns forced a punt on Georgia Southern’s next possession, one that Dontae Fleming took on one bounce and returned 50 yards to the Eagle 28. From there it took only one play, with Wooldridge finding Cajun receiving leader Michael Jefferson on a slant pass that the senior cut back and turned into a 28-yard score that made it 21-7 with 10:28 left in the half.

After another Eagle punt, UL drove 40 yards to the Georgia Southern 31, from where Almendares banged through a 48-yard field goal for a 24-7 advantage 3:34 before halftime. His second field goal came just before the halftime break, and UL then drove 62 yards to open the second half before Almendares hit a 27-yard field goal for the 30-7 advantage.

Georgia Southern cut the difference to 30-14 late in the third quarter when Vantrease connected with Marcus Sanders, Jr., on a 25-yard scoring pass, but the Eagles could get no closer as Almendares hit his final two field goals in a four-minute stretch in the fourth quarter.

Wooldridge finished with 193 passing yards on 17-of-31 completions, while three different Cajun running backs had 50 or more yards. Smith led the way with 80 rush yards – eight more than Georgia Southern’s team 72-yard total – while Washington had 74 and Terrence Williams 51.

Wooldridge also added 38 rush yards, getting sacked only once for a three-yard loss, and completed passes to 11 different receivers. Peter LeBlanc led the way with four catches for 40 yards while Jefferson had three grabs for 53 yards and the touchdown.

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