No. 16 La.-Lafayette tops UTSA 31-24 in First Responder Bowl

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Louisiana-Lafayette linebacker Ferrod Gardner (7), coach Billy Napier and others hold up the trophy after a 31-24 win over UTSA in the First Responder Bowl NCAA college football game in Dallas, Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Strasen)

DALLAS – Louisiana-Lafayette’s seemingly comfortable 17-point lead over UTSA disappeared during the second half of the First Responder Bowl.

The Ragin’ Cajuns responded with a time-consuming winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter and a critical defensive stop in a finish reminiscent of their entire season.

Trey Ragas scored on a 1-yard plunge with 7:16 left and No. 16 Louisiana-Lafayette drove 72 yards in 12 plays to beat UTSA 31-24 on Saturday at SMU’s Ford Stadium.

“We made it entertaining again,” Louisiana-Lafayette coach Billy Napier said. “We didn’t have any panic, had great poise. Certainly could have played better in some areas. This group – when it counts, we’ve put some things together.”

Louisiana-Lafayette (10-1) finished with double-digit wins for the second straight year after never previously doing so and came from behind to win six times this season. Napier said there was no need for talk on Saturday after the 17-point lead disappeared.

“It’s too late to have a rah-rah speech,” he said. “At that point you’ve either got the ownership, the character to regroup and make adjustments to compete and play through the ups and downs of the game or you don’t.”

UTSA associate head coach/offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. directed the Roadrunners after first-year coach Jeff Traylor twice tested positive for COVID-19 this week and didn’t accompany the team.

“It could have easily gotten out of hand,” Lunney said “Our guys came to life and turned the tide. We just couldn’t finish the game. We did just enough in all three phases to lose the game, but we also did just enough in all three phases to be in the game.”