What’s next for Cardinals football?

Published 2:13 pm Wednesday, November 25, 2015

BEAUMONT — The mood inside the postgame interview room at Lamar wasn’t entirely indicative of a team that finished a season of missed opportunities.
In fact, coach Ray Woodard and a few select players were left not only to lament the near upset of second-ranked and unbeaten McNeese State, but to reflect on the highs and lows of the Cardinals’ third five-win season since re-launching their football program in 2010.
One high is actually accumulative of the success of Woodard’s third four-year senior class: they’ve won 22 games during their time here, one more than last year’s seniors. Quarterback Joe Minden was on the team for five of those wins, winning four as a starter.
“I’ve been in college five years, and it feels like it just flew by,” he said, able to maintain a smile despite Lamar’s 20-14 defeat to McNeese State moments earlier Saturday. “Couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity, especially that Lamar gave me. Just really, extremely thankful for the coaches who gave me a chance.”
The 2015 season, no doubt, will be more remembered for the record-setting exploits of a junior, running back Kade Harrington, along with senior Reggie Begelton. Harrington has finished the regular season as the Football Championship Subdivision’s national leader in total rushing yards (2,092). He’s 368 yards ahead of Marshaun Coprich, who led Illinois State to a national runner-up finish last January, and 449 better than Fordam’s Chase Edmonds.
Coprich and Edmonds, however, will get to continue their seasons in the FCS’ big dance, the NCAA Division I Football Championship playoffs.
Minden, an MBA prospect who transferred from Stephen F. Austin, missed one game (and three starts) with an injured throwing hand and finished 4-4 as a starter while sharing time with junior transfer Carson Earp. Minden completed 57.7 percent of his passes (116-of-201) for 1,296 yards and 12 touchdowns with 11 interceptions.
Begelton was the main benefactor from both quarterbacks, finishing the season with 57 catches for 545 yards and five touchdowns. Classmate Devonn Brown emerged in the passing game with 514 yards on 26 carries and five TDs, including one that pulled Lamar (5-6, 4-5 Southland) within 20-14 late in the game.
“This was a class that left it better than they found it,” Woodard said. “Last year was a breakthrough year, and this year, the record should have been better than it was.
“It’s a good group as far as playing talent goes but also a group of a lot of good people. Main reason was the senior leadership.”
Among that senior leadership was Orangefield linebacker Logan Moss, who had two tackles for losses against McNeese. The defense recovered enough to post two of their four best performances in terms of points allowed under Mark Criner after previous defensive coordinator Craig McGallion suddenly retired after the shocking home loss to Nicholls State.
Criner only served in the interim and is still a candidate for the permanent role.
“I can’t say enough about coach Criner,” Moss said. “He’s a defensive genius. He pulled us all together. Great guy, great coach. We had a really rough patch in the middle of the season. Our defense just wasn’t playing well. He brought us all together, made us get back to work. I think we really improved these last two weeks.”
Lamar still allowed 406 of McNeese’s 443 yards in the rushing category and got lucky thanks to a couple of goal-line fumbles that could have put the game almost out of reach. For the season, Lamar has allowed 442.5 total yards per game (215 rushing), slightly hired than its offense has produced (437).
“Same set of problems,” Woodard said, addressing the run defense issues within the Cardinals. “Personnel problems. Fits problems. Again, the wind dictated it, and [McNeese was] going to run the football more.”
Offensively, the Cardinals lose five starters, including left tackle Cody Elenz, right tackle Justin Brock, Brown, Begelton and Minden. The only position of concern in Woodard’s recruiting efforts will be at the wideout position, as second-stringers Jayce Nelson (a Port Neches-Groves graduate) and Gee Gladney also exhausted their eligibility.
Under center, Woodard will be well stocked with the return of Earp, redshirts Brett Cox (freshman) and Blake McKenzie (injured junior) and the expected signing of PN-G’s Adam Morse.
The Cardinals lose only three senior starters on defense, including linebacker Ronnie Jones, senior cornerback Seth Ellis and Moss. So, depth and experience won’t be much of an issue for 2016.
“I think we signed a very good freshman class, and we redshirted a bunch of those guys,” Woodard said. “I think they’ll all fill in and put in very good springs. I like what we got returning.”
For Minden, whatever happened in 2015 won’t hinder the five-year collegiate experience he enjoyed, all in the Southland.
“I had fun,” he said. “That’s all that matters. That’s what it’s about. People forget that it’s just a game. But we all play hard. Obviously we wish things went different throughout the season, but throughout the season, we all play hard.”

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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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