BEAUMONT, Texas – There is a different buzz in the air despite the fact it’s just the third week of the season. Even though the Lamar University football program is still in the early stages of the 2017 season, the intensity has picked as the Cardinals prepare for the Southland Conference opener at Northwestern State Saturday.
For the Cardinals, the third week of the season has felt like a new beginning of sorts after a turbulent preseason and start to the year. Prior to Hurricane Harvey hitting the Texas coast, the Cardinals had the majority of their preseason workouts delayed, shortened or canceled due to thunderstorms. Despite Mother Nature’s best attempts, the Cardinals continued to press forward and sit 1-1 on the season after the first two games.
The Cardinals will look to turn their 1-1 record into a modest two-game win streak Saturday when it steps on the field at Turpin Stadium. Big Red will face a Northwestern State squad whose record does not accurately reflect the talent level of the team. The Demons are winless after opening the season with games at Louisiana Tech and Grambling State, but the final outcome in those games doesn’t tell the whole story.
The Demons were tied with Louisiana Tech with less than a minute remaining in the third quarter, and trailed by only a touchdown with 12 minutes remaining in the fourth before the Bulldogs closed the game with three unanswered scores. Last week, Northwestern State hung tough against one of FCS football’s top-ranked teams. The Demons surrendered just six second-half points to 23rd-ranked Grambling State before falling 23-10.
“The start of conference play is always an exciting time,” said Schultz. “This is one of the problems that I’m facing right now is that I’m not sure what we will face in the Southland Conference having never been through it before. You can watch as much film as you want but until you actually go through the league you won’t know what to expect. I’m not sure where we stand as a team compared to the rest of the league. I’m excited to find out where we stand against another Southland Conference team.”
The Red and White’s victory over Texas-Permian Basin in the home opener put an end to a six-game slide dating back to last season (the Cardinals closed out 2016 losing the final five games of the year). LU now travels to Natchitoches, La., looking for its first consecutive wins since midway through last season.
Northwestern State ranks in the middle of the Southland pack in offense and defense, but has hung its hat on the passing attack in the season’s first two weeks. The Demons are third in the league averaging nearly 250 passing yards per contest. Senior J.D. Almond leads the Northwestern offense completing nearly 60 percent of his passes for 403 yards and two scores.
“I’ve watched Northwestern State quite a bit,” said Schultz. “That is a well-coached football team with some talented players. Defensively, Northwestern has some guys that are going to be a handful for us to handle. Offensively, they have some big-play threats and a quarterback who manages the offense really well.
“You can’t get hung up on their record, because they have played two very good opponents – Louisiana Tech who is an FBS squad and a nationally ranked Grambling squad,” added Schultz.
Northwestern State’s ability to throw the ball sets up an interesting match up on the field. The Cardinals have picked up where they left off last season leading the Southland Conference in pass defense. LU is surrendering fewer than 155 pass yards per game through its first two games. The Cardinals are currently second in the Southland in total offense (454 ypg), and have the league’s second-best ground attack (241 ypg).
“Northwestern State is a lot like North Texas,” said Schultz. “They’re a very balanced football team who does a good job running and passing the football. We have to make sure we’re ready for them.”
The Cardinals head to Natchitoches, La. looking to even up the all-time series against the Demons. LU is currently a game under .500 (8-9-1/.472) all-time. Natchitoches has been unforgiving to the Red and White in the past as LU won just four of 11 games played on the road, including losses in the last five consecutive away games. The Cardinals ended a four-game slide against Northwestern State last with its thrilling last second victory at Provost Umphrey Stadium.
Unfortunately, history is not on LU’s side entering the match up. Not only have the Cardinals struggled in Natchitoches, Big Red is just 11-18 (.379) all-time in Southland opening contests, and just 2-5 (.286) since bringing back the program. Saturday will mark the first time in program history that LU has opened Southland Conference play against Northwestern State.
The NSU Student-Athlete Advisory Council will be using Saturday’s contest to spearhead a drive to raise donations for Hurricane Harvey relief. NSU’s SAAC will be teaming up with the Greek community to accept cash donations for Harvey relief efforts. The funds raised will go to LU students, faculty and staff who have been impacted by Harvey, as well as to support the Houston Metroplex through the J.J. Watt YouCaring.com Hurricane Harvey initiative.
Saturday’s game will kick off at 6 p.m. from Turpin Stadium in Natchitoches. The game can be seen live on ESPN3.