BEAUMONT, Texas – A 22-yard scoring strike from Carson Earp to DeWan Thompson with six seconds on the clock handed the Lamar University football its most thrilling victory since bringing back the program for the start of the 2010 season. Trailing by as many as 15 points with less than two minutes remaining LU (3-3/3-1 Southland) scored two touchdowns in the final 1:43 of the contest to record the victory over Northwestern State, 32-31, Saturday evening at Provost Umphrey Stadium.
"I really don't know what to say about a finish like that," said LU head coach Ray Woodard. "We really progressed as a team in the two previous weeks leading up to this game. We prepared for this game in much the same manner as the previous two. We had so many things not go our way tonight. It seemed like we were handling adversity after adversity. The only thing I can say is we didn't quit and kept playing. Our defense gave our offense an opportunity to score twice late. That's why you play for 60 minutes. I've never been a part of one like this."
The victory was the program's first over Northwestern State (1-5/0-4 SLC) since bringing back the sport. It is also the first time the Cardinals have won three consecutive games since the 1989 season.
Although only holding the lead for the final six seconds of the contest, the Cardinals outgained Northwestern State, 561 to 410. The Demons were only able to inflict damage on the ground as the LU defense held Northwestern State to 20 passing yards. Sophomore Cameron Hampton led the Cards' defense with 16 tackles, while senior defensive back Brendan Langley picked off a pass for the fourth consecutive game – his sixth of the season.
Earp completed 29 passes for a career-high 412 yards and four touchdowns, and carried the ball six times for 63 yards. After not having a receiver record 100 receiving yards in a game this season, the Red and White finished Saturday's game with two, Zae Giles and DeWan Thompson. Giles hauled in 10 receptions for 118 yards, while Thompson had four catches for 139 yards and two scores.
The situation was bleak early as the Demons raced out to a 17-3 lead and held that advantage for nearly the whole first half. LU got the ball back with 3:02 remaining looking to take back some of the momentum heading into the locker room. Earp orchestrated a 14-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 10-yard pass to senior Michael Handy for his first touchdown grab of the season, but the point after was blocked leaving the Cards with an eight-point deficit heading into halftime.
The second half started much like the first with Northwestern State scoring the first touchdown to push their advantage back to 15 points, 24-9, with just under 14 minutes remaining in the third quarter. LU answered back less than two minutes later when Earp hit Thompson for the first of his two TD catches. It was a pass over the middle that Thompson took 86 yards for the score. The Cards attempted a two-point conversion but failed. Trailing by nine points, LU turned to senior Juan Carranco to put points on the board early in the fourth. After the Cardinals drive stalled out on the Northwestern State 23 Carranco stepped in to drill a 30-yard field goal to cut the deficit down to six points, 24-18.
The Demons answered back 2:22 later when Jared West capped a five-play, 74-yard drive with a two-yard rush for the score. The visitors took a 13-point lead and what appeared to be all the momentum in the contest, but LU was setting the stage for one of the most thrilling comebacks in program history.
Getting the ball back with 2:50 on the clock, Earp quickly moved the Cardinals down the field to connect with Marcus Daggs from 36 yards out to cut Northwestern State's lead down to six, 31-25. The drive consumed 74 yards in five plays and took 1:14 off the clock but appeared to be little more than a note in the history books as all Northwestern needed was to recover the onside kick.
Carranco lined up the kick which ricocheted off a Northwestern State player bounced on the ground and was recovered by the Red and White, but the excitement was muted due to a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty against LU. Undaunted the Cardinals took the ball on their own 42 yard line and picked up 21 yards on the first two plays to get down to the Demon 37. After a penalty and a sack, the Cardinals were facing 2nd-and-15 from the Northwestern 42 with 46 seconds remaining. Earp hit Giles for consecutive receptions to move the ball down to the Demon 12 but after a sack and two incompletions the Cardinals faced 4th-and-20 from with just seconds remaining. Earp took the next snap and lofted the ball into the left corner of the end zone where Thompson hauled it in to tie the game at 31. Carranco put the wraps on the comeback when he converted the point after for the win.
"We've won the last three in a row because we've had so many different guys step up and do things for our team," said Woodard. "This was (DeWan's) time to step up for us and he did, and I'm so proud for him."
For the Cardinals it was their first victory over Northwestern State since the 1979 season, which was also the last time LU defeated the Demons in Beaumont.
The Cardinals return to action Saturday, Oct. 22, when the travel to Conway, Ark., to take on Central Arkansas. The game against the Bears will kick off at 6 p.m. from Estes Stadium.