The 2013 version of the Lamar Cardinal football team will open the new season Saturday against Oklahoma Panhandle State.
Under the direction of fourth-year head coach Ray Woodard, the Cardinals, who have never lost a home opener since resurrecting the program, are looking to start the season with a win for the second time during that stretch.
The opponent, OPSU, comes to Beaumont representing the Heartland Conference. The Aggies enter the 2013 season coming off a 3-6 campaign that saw them lose five of their final six games.
OPSU had one of the strongest ground attacks at the NCAA Division II level last season, but the Aggies will be looking to replace Justice Patterson who averaged better than 100 rushing yards per contest. Junior quarterback Caleb Holbrook is the team's top returning rusher from 2012 averaging less than 40 yards per game.
The Aggies also had one nation's top defenses last season. OPSU ranked 12th nationally in rush defense (100.3 ypg) and among the top 25 in sacks (2.75 pg) and tackles for losses (7.75 pg). The Aggies return two of their top three leading tacklers from last year in junior defensive back Dominique Guest and linebacker Nathaneal Mathurin.
Junior Caleb Berry has been announced as the starting quarterback for the Cardinals Saturday. The Needville, Texas junior completed better than 52 percent of his passes for 663 yards and five touchdowns in split playing time last season.
Berry will have a talented stable of receivers to throw the ball to this season including Jordan Edwards (23-349/4 TDs), Reggie Begelton (21-172/1 TD) and Mike Handy who was one of the team's top receivers from last season before a season-ending injury put him on the shelf. That list doesn't even include reigning Southland Newcomer of the Year Kevin Johnson or 2013 preseason All-SLC selection Barry Ford.
The Cardinals defense, which has been steadily improving every season, led the conference in shutting down an opponent's passing attack, and returns five of its top six leading tacklers from last season. A preseason second-team all-conference pick, Jermaine Longino leads the LU list of talented defenders after a junior season that saw him tie for the league lead with 107 tackles.
History is on Lamar's side as the Cardinals enter the new season. LU has never lost a game against a team from the state of Oklahoma owning a perfect 7-0 mark. OPSU is one of three Oklahoma schools the Cardinals will face in 2013 (Oklahoma State and Bacone).