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Ragin’ Cajuns open Sun Belt Conference play next Saturday at ULM  

HOUSTON – Rice rolled up 449 offensive yards and scored on two lengthy fourth-quarter drives on the way to a 33-21 victory over UL’s Ragin’ Cajuns here Saturday, snapping the nation’s longest winning streak.  

The Owls (2-1) took advantage of an inconsistent Cajun offense and controlled the ball for more than 40 minutes in the first meeting between the two teams since the 1989 season. The Cajuns (2-1), who hadn’t lost since the opening game of the 2021 season, ran only 43 offensive plays and were held to nine first downs.  

Rice quarterback TJ McMahon threw for 303 yards and three touchdowns, but three first-half interceptions by the Cajun defense allowed UL to take a 14-13 halftime lead. However, the Owls scored on the opening possession of the second half and then had two fourth-quarter scoring drives that each took more than six minutes. In all, Rice had a dominant 41:51-to-18:09 advantage in time of possession and only punted once in the game, that coming on the Owls’ first possession.  

Neither Cajun quarterback could provide a spark to the offense, with Chandler Fields throwing for 38 yards on 7-of-14 throws and backup Ben Wooldridge throwing for 76 yards on 6-of-14 passing.  

“That wasn’t a very good showing for us to say the least,” said UL coach Michael Desormeaux, who suffered his first loss after three wins to open his career. “Our defense played great, they kept us in the game the whole time. We just can’t leave the defense out there the entire game.  

“We didn’t play good enough on offense and I have to call it better. We’re certainly disappointed to say the least. We have to fix some things, and we have to continue to work hard to get everybody on the same page.”  

The Cajuns hadn’t suffered a loss since falling to Texas in the opening game of the 2021 season, finishing that year with 13 straight wins. This year’s two opening wins gave UL a school-record 15-game win streak, the longest in the nation by seven games going into the weekend.  

“It didn’t matter when it ended, it was not going to be easy,” Desormeaux said. “I told the guys this was my fault and I have to do a better job for them. I’m proud of our kids, they play hard and I know how they prepared, and I know how disappointed they are. When you work that hard for something, it crushes you.”  

Rice drove 75 yards with the second-half kickoff without having to convert a third down, and McMahon hit Bradley Rozner with a 12-yard touchdown pass to give the Owls the lead for good at 19-14 less than five minutes into the second half.  

After a punt and a missed field goal on UL’s next two drives, McMahon finished a 65-yard march with a six-yard scoring pass to Luke McCaffery, who had 10 catches for 105 yards and two scores.  

The Cajuns cut it back to a one-possession game early in the fourth quarter when Wooldridge hit four passes for 53 yards in a 75-yard march and Chris Smith bounced off two defenders and rambled 22 yards for a touchdown that cut it to 27-21 with 9:17 left.  

However, the Owls came back and marched 70 yards, including a fourth-down offsides penalty on the Cajuns that wiped out a field goal. Ari Broussard scored from two yards out with 2:59 left for the final margin.  

“We were not converting on third downs,” said Desormeaux, whose squad finished 3-of-11 compared to the Owls’ 9-of-15 third-down efficiency. “We’d get it going forward and then we’d have negative plays. It wasn’t clean, and it just multiplied error after error. Just a lot of mistakes, especially early in the game.”  

The Cajuns led at the half despite having only three first downs and being outgained 207-66 offensively, with the third of those first downs providing the halftime lead. That came three plays after defensive end Nijel McGriff had UL’s third interception in four Rice drives, picking off McMahon at the Rice 26 and returning it nine yards to the 17.  

On third down, Fields caught the Owls in an all-out blitz and found running back Terrance Williams open in the end zone for an 11-yard score that provided a 14-10 lead 1:24 before halftime.  

UL’s other first-half touchdown came directly from the defense, with cornerback Caleb Anderson jumping an out-route in front of the Cajun bench and taking it 54 untouched yards with 2:47 left in the first period. The pick-six was UL’s first since Kris Moncrief’s 67-yard scoring return against Nicholls in the 2021 home opener.  

Defensive end Andre Jones also had an interception late in the first quarter, giving the UL defense eight takeaways in a four-quarter span dating back to the second half of last Saturday’s 49-21 win over Eastern Michigan. In that game, the Cajuns forced turnovers on EMU’s final four possessions, and McGriff’s pick gave the Cajun defense seven turnovers in 10 opponent possessions.  

The Owls took advantage of a turnover – the Cajuns’ first in eight games dating back to last year’s Nov. 4 game against Georgia State – to take an early 3-0 lead, when George Kyakwol picked off Fields at the UL 38 to set up Christian VanSickle’s 23-yard field goal.  

After UL’s first two interceptions, Rice mounted an eight-minute, 83-yard, 13-play march that resulted in McMahon’s eight-yard TD pass to McCaffrey. The Owls also had a 60-yard march at the end of the half before VanSickle hit a 31-yard field goal at the halftime horn.  

Season tickets for the 2022 campaign are on sale now and can be purchased by visiting Account Manager. For more information call the Louisiana Athletics Box Office at the CAJUNDOME at (337) 265-2104.  

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