ATLANTA (AP) — Louisiana-Lafayette coach Billy Napier was concerned about Saturday's game at Georgia State.
Turns out he had good reason.
“I think human nature, when everybody’s patting you on the back, maybe you relax a little bit," Napier said. “I feel like we practiced well. I feel like practice was up to par. I do think that, no matter what, some of that has a residual effect on you. I think it’s important we learned a good lesson here."
Elijah Mitchell rushed for 164 yards, including the winning touchdown in overtime, and No. 19 Louisiana-Lafayette topped Georgia State 34-31.
The Ragin’ Cajuns (2-0, 1-0 Sun Belt Conference) were ranked for the first time since 1943 following last week’s 20-point win at Iowa State. Louisiana-Lafayette was a 17-point favorite, but trailed 14-7 at intermission and Levi Lewis then threw an interception on the opening drive of the second half.
The Panthers (0-1, 0-1) answered by taking a 21-7 lead on Marcus Carroll’s 2-yard run, but the advantage didn’t last very long.
Lewis, who completed 21 of 37 passes for 279 yards, rolled left to complete a 4-yard touchdown pass that cut the lead to 21-14 midway through the third quarter, and then Mitchell got going.
“We put it in our head it was going to come sooner or later," Mitchell said. “The time came. We made adjustments and stuff, and it started happening in the second half. The offensive line, they really stepped it up in the second half and we made it happen.”
The senior running back burst free down the left side for two long gains; a 59-yard touchdown run that tied it at 21 late in the third, and a 53-yard run early in the fourth that set up Trey Ragas’ 2-yard touchdown run.
“He capitalized on people’s mistakes," Lewis said. “When you make the wrong move on him, it’s going to be bad. Eli’s real athletic, agile, hard to get down. It’s hard to get that guy down.”
Georgia State tied it at 28 on Coates’ 4-yard run with 7:37 remaining.
In overtime, Mitchell ran 12 yards around the right side and was untouched as he crossed the goal line for the final score. He finished with 16 carries.
The Panthers were trying for their first win over a ranked team in seven tries. Destin Coates finished with 150 yards rushing and a TD for Georgia State. Quad Brown, making his first career start, completed 22 of 39 passes for 196 yards, one TD and one pick.
Brown’s 12-yard run off right tackle was good for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead in the first. Tight end Roger Carter, running a wheel route on the left side, caught 28-yard pass early in the second for a 14-0 lead.
The Ragin’ Cajuns offense, which went 1 for 9 on third down in the first half, finally woke up after Mekhi Garner intercepted Brown late in the second. Lewis converted a fourth-and-10 pass to Devon Pauley and found Chris Smith for an 18-yard touchdown.
“I kept telling my guys, ‘Just keep fighting. keep chopping wood,'” Lewis said. “No matter what happens, we know what type of team we have. We had a lot of ball to play. There was two quarters left in the ballgame.”
Noel Ruiz kicked a 25-yard field goal on the first possession of overtime for Georgia State.
“You look at the effort of our football team," Panthers coach Shawn Elliott said. “How we played the game, how we fought. We knew they were good, but we thought we could play with them. We played with great effort, we played with intensity. It tells me we can come out and make some noise."
Louisiana-Lafayette: The Ragin’ Cajuns likely will stay in the poll despite the close outcome. Their defense had an early takeaway when Chauncey Manac forced a fumble, but the offense couldn’t get any momentum going until Lewis directed the touchdown drive late in the second. After halftime, they ran off 21 straight points to take the 28-21 lead.
Georgia State: The Panthers hardly looked like a team playing its opener. Georgia State had its first two games canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, the Panthers came close to earning their second opening upset in two years following last year’s win at Tennessee.
Linebacker Joe Dillon, a leader on Louisiana-Lafayette’s defense, stayed home. He was not cleared to play by the team medical staff due to what Napier termed “an illness." Dillon had a team-high 10.5 tackles for minus yardage and eight sacks last year.
Louisiana-Lafayette: Hosts Georgia Southern next Saturday.
Georgia State: At Charlotte next Saturday.
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