Ragin’ Cajuns Fans Bask in Championship Glory, Look to Future
Excitement and jubilation filled Cajun Field Saturday night.
The Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns faithful--all 31,017 of them--let out a massive roar when their team made the stop that clinched the Sun Belt Championship. They roared again when the clock hit 0:00 in Louisiana's 24-16 win over Appalachian State in the Sun Belt Championship Game.
That victory clinched the Cajuns' third Sun Belt Conference Championship and their first outright SBC title since joining the conference's football league in 2001. It's the university's first outright conference championship since the 1970 squad won the Gulf States Conference Championship.
For fans and players alike, the postgame celebration is a moment they’ll never forget.
“Oh, it’s incredible!" exclaimed Justin Rivera. "I’ve never been part of something like this. Just rushing onto the field, that adrenaline, it reminds of me of playing sports in high school. It’s just phenomenal. It’s a night I’ll never forget.”
Rivera is a member in the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. He and his other frat brothers went to Cajun Field not only to cheer on the Ragin' Cajuns, but to thank Coach Billy Napier for what he’s done for the football program.
Their message was loud and clear.
In addition to chanting, "Thank you, Billy," Rivera and his frat brothers held up a bed sheet with that same message spray-painted on it.
“It’s awesome," Rivera said. "It’s great to see him to take the next level and take the money and be able to provide for his family. I’m super proud of him (and) proud for what this university has done for us.”
Other fans and alumni have waited their entire lives for this moment. Gerry Hebert is one of them.
“You know, (this is) 51 years in the making, man!" an excited Hebert said after the game. "You know, I remember as a kid, coming to these games, I remember years where we’d be lucky to win one or two games. To see everything come full circle, to see what Billy Napier has built here, to sit here in front of 31,000 fans to win a conference championship we haven’t won in a half a century, I couldn’t be any prouder of this team. I couldn’t be any prouder of this community. And even through Billy Napier is gone, he’s done so much for this program. Now it’s time to move forward and keep this momentum going because we want to come back here and win another conference championship.”
Saturday’s win was Napier’s 40th and final win as the head coach at Louisiana before leaving for his new job at Florida.
For Ragin' Cajuns play-by-play announcer Jay Walker, the weekend was nuts--but in a good way.
"The Cajuns went out and took care of their business before over 31,000 fans at Cajun Field on Saturday," Walker said. "It was a wonderful celebration. It was a very special time. Then 1:00 on the next afternoon, we get word that the Cajuns have identified the next person to lead this program, and they didn't have to look very far."
Louisiana athletics director Dr. Brian Maggard says Desormeaux is a great coach and a better man. That’s why, according to Maggard, Billy Napier recommended him for the job.
"I value highly (Coach Napier's) opinion and his thoughts and insight, and certainly an endorsement from him goes a long way," Dr. Maggard said. "He was the right man for this job right now, in my opinion. He's a student of the game. He has a high football acumen. That man's character, integrity, and his ability to build relationships and build people is second to none.
"He and Coach Napier are very similar in their dispositions, in their thoughtfulness, their intelligence, their humility, integrity, and character," Dr. Maggard continued. "Those are other traits that I think are going to bode well for Mike Desormeaux and allow him to be a fantastic head football coach at his university--our university."
According to Walker, the UL Athletic Department picked the right man for the job.
"This was a unique coaching search for the Cajuns because they weren't looking to fix anything," Walker said. "Every time you've looked for a football coach in the past, it's been broken, so you had to bring somebody in to fix it. That's what they did with Billy Napier. Well, (this time) it's not broken. The team has won 12 straight games, you're in the Top 25 for the second straight year, and you've got a program that's in pretty good shape.
"What are you going to do? Are you going to go out and hire somebody who's going to come in and fire the whole staff and bring in a bunch of guys and you don't know if it's going to work or not, or are you going to hire someone who will continue the growth of the culture? I think it was a pretty easy decision for Brian Maggard to make. He'll tell you it was a tough decision. Who knows; maybe it was. I think this was a time where if you've been successful and you have an opening, the first place you look is within to see if you have someone who can step in and do the job, and he felt Mike Desormeaux could. That's the decision he made, and I think it's a good one."Tickets are now on sale for Ragin' Cajuns season ticket holders. Tickets go on sale to the general public on December 10.
To hear the audio package of the fans' reaction and our full interviews with Dr. Maggard and Walker, click the icons below.