Plenty to play for: Winning season, another top-3 upset at stake as LU seniors try to cement legacy

Published 5:33 pm Friday, November 20, 2015

BEAUMONT — When you’re down to your final college football game and you’re playing the No. 2-ranked team in the country on your home field, there are many ways to approach it.

For Lamar, one way is realizing that a winning record is on the line. Another is to focus on winning a rivalry game.

For quarterback Joe Minden, it’s all about fun.

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“It’s my last game,” he said. “I want to have fun. I want to remember it on a positive note, and it’s rivalry week.

“We’re playing our rival. It’s going to be packed. A lot of fans on both sides. I’m just going to try and enjoy the moment. Hopefully, things go well.”

Cliché as it all may be, Minden and the Cardinals have plenty at stake as they close their season Saturday night against No. 2 McNeese State in the annual Battle of the Border. For the seniors, they have a chance to go out as the first Lamar graduating class since the teams of 1957-67 to post back-to-back winning records. (The teams of 1972-74 were the last to post consecutive non-losing seasons, with the 1973 team going 5-5).

To the 2015 Cardinals (5-5, 4-4 SWAC), it’s a big deal. And the prospect of it is cause for soon-to-be four-year letterman Ronnie Jones to reflect on how far the program has come since its 2010 renewal.

“I’ve seen it grow from the bottom,” the linebacker said. “Talent-wise, you can see the difference. Everybody around the complex is just different. It’s just a different atmosphere from four years ago.”

That same talent has allowed Lamar to stir one of the Southland Conference’s biggest upsets of this season, a 49-46 win at then-No. 3 Sam Houston State. The thought of adding to that a win over the second-ranked Cowboys — who already have at least a share of the Southland title — is not lost on the Cardinals.

Not that long ago, the Cards were considered serious Southland title contenders. Narrow losses to Southeastern Louisiana and Nicholls State and seemingly listless performances against Central Arkansas and Northwestern State ruined those hopes.

But just starting off as a title contender was only a sign of growth in Cards football.

“The only thing you can take from this season is a lot of positives,” senior wide receiver Reggie Begelton said. “It’s a lot of bumps in the road in the game of football. That’s how it goes. It doesn’t ever go how you expect it to go. We’re just trying to stay positive and have fun.”

Plenty of hype early in the season surrounded Begelton, a local favorite who has since set LU career records in receiving yards (2,405) and career receptions (223) and needs two more TD catches to break Mark Roberts’ record of 21 set last year. This year, a junior teammate easily took Southland football by storm in the form of Kade Harrington.

The Football Championship Subdivision-leading running back, who’s earned the Twitter hashtag #TheArKADE for his video game-like statistics, has a school record 2,022 rushing yards this year, becoming the seventh ever to break 2,000 or more in 10 games in all of Division I. Today, his school-record string of eight 100-yard games in a row will be on the line against a Cowboys defense that has allowed only three touchdowns and shut out five opponents in the second half.

That defense includes former Nederland quarterback and true freshman linebacker Sage Seay.

“They play physical,” Harrington said. “They play very disciplined football. Every week I think we’ve done a very good job of scheming defenses and know what in our offense works against them.”

The Cowboys still have much to go for aside from securing their fifth undefeated regular season (1963, 1979, 1995 and 2007). A win will give them an outright Southland championship and match coach Matt Viator with Bobby Keasler (1990-98) for the most in school history with 78.

Quarterback Daniel Sams has been a winner the past two seasons, going 15-1 as a starter and adding 773 rushing yards to 1,404 passing yards this year while accounting for 19 touchdowns.

Jones draws on the experience of slowing down Sam Houston State’s quarterback tandem for the challenge he and the Cards’ defense will face tonight.

“Their [SHSU’s and McNeese’s] quarterbacks are similar, so we know what to kind of expect from them,” he said. “I feel like we can build from that. We know we can stop a high-powered offense when our defense comes together.”

Saturday marks the end of Minden’s Southland Conference journey, which began at Stephen F. Austin. Searching for an opportunity to start in the conference after earning a finance degree in Nacogdoches, he picked Lamar and has shared time with junior Carson Earp under center.

The MBA candidate is 4-3 as a starter at Lamar and has a chance to cement the legacy of the football senior class with a second straight winning record — and second straight Battle of the Border title.

Minden stopped short, though, of calling this game Lamar’s own championship game of sorts.

“When you’re playing a rival, anything can happen,” he said. “You’ve got to play hard. Whoever can make the big plays and limit the turnovers is going to win the game. That’s with any game, but with this game, it’s intensified.

“There’s a lot of pressure put on this game. Everybody wants to win this game.”



  • McNeese: 395.7 yards per game (223.7 rushing, 172 passing); leaders Daniel Sams (senior QB, 773 yards, 10 touchdowns on 154 carries; 1,404 yards, 9 touchdowns on 118-236 passing, 8 interceptions); Ryan Ross (sophomore EB, 746 yards, 8 touchdowns on 118 carries); Kent Shelby (sophomore WR, 565 yards, 5 touchdowns on 33 receptions)
  • Lamar: 463.1 yards per game (287.2 passing, 175.9 passing); leaders Kade Harrington (junior RB, 2,022 yards, 21 touchdowns on 249 carries), Joe Minden (senior QB, 1,183 yards, 11 touchdowns on 107-of-177 passing, 11 interceptions), Carson Earp (junior QB, 576 yards, 7 touchdowns on 42-of-77 passing, 2 interceptions)


  • McNeese: 292.2 yards per game (80.1 rushing, 212.1 passing); leaders Brent Spikes (senior safety, 60 tackles, 45 solo, 3 pass breakups); Ashari Goins (sophomore LB, 4 sacks, 54 tackles); Dominique Hill (sophomore DE/LB, 11 tackles for losses, 53 total)
  • Lamar: 442.5 yards per game (209.7 rushing, 232.8 passing); leaders Xavier Bethany (sophomore safety, 74 tackles, 40 solo, 2 interceptions); Larance Hale (junior DE, 7.5 sacks, 74 tackles, 19 for losses); Rodney Randle (freshman CB, 3 interceptions, 5 pass break-ups)

Sound bytes

  • McNeese coach Matt Viator, on Lamar running back Kade Harrington: “It’s going to be a huge challenge to stop him. It’s impressive when you look at him on film. He has great vision. He’s not a huge guy but he runs extremely powerful.”
  • Lamar coach Ray Woodard: “To say McNeese State is a good team might just be the understatement of the year. They are undefeated for a reason. They are playing well at every position. This is a very big game for us, too.”

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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