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FOOTBALL: Can Cards keep trending against Lumberjacks?

Lamar sports information

BEAUMONT – Over the course of the past two weeks of the season, Lamar has gone from a team trying to battle its way out of the cellar to becoming the topic of conversation within the Southland Conference.

The Cardinals picked up their first league win with a dramatic blocked field goal and return over undefeated Incarnate Word two weeks ago and followed that up with a stunning 41-23 victory over No. 14 Sam Houston State last week.

The Cardinals are now in the position of putting that excitement in the rearview mirror and focus solely on their next opponent – Stephen F. Austin. The Cardinals (3-4, 2-3 Southland) have moved into eighth in the conference standings after their two-game win streak and sit just a half game back of Southeastern Louisiana and Abilene Christian. The Red and White are also a half game up on their next opponent.

“Defensively, SFA is very good,” said LU head coach Mike Schultz. “This is a well-coached team that always has a good scheme. They have some very big guys on that side of the ball and will give you several looks. They also have guys that will get after the football and tackle in space. This is a very good defense that we’re going to be facing.

“On the offensive side of the football they have a TCU transfer at quarterback who can really get the football up and down the field. They also have some big athletic receivers who gave us problems last year. Like I say each week, there is a lot of parity in this league. If a team shows up not ready to play you’re going to get beat. We have to be ready,” added Schultz.

SFA enters the showdown ninth in the league, just a half game back of the Cardinals, but looking leapfrog the Red and White Saturday. After recording an impressive three-point victory over an improved Abilene Christian squad, the Lumberjacks have dropped three of their past four games but are coming off a dominant 42-14 win over Houston Baptist last week.

Saturday’s battle pits two teams against each other that are fighting for the same thing. Both LU and the Lumberjacks are trying to make a late season surge up the conference ladder.

At times during the 2018 season, the Lumberjacks have struggled to finish off drives ranked 11th in the league in scoring offense (18.1 points per game). Those numbers are skewed slightly due to the nature of the SFA schedule in the first half of the season. The ‘Jacks have played four top 25 teams – including No. 18 Mississippi State to open the year – and had a game against NCAA Division II Tarleton State canceled due to weather earlier in the year. The Lumberjacks also went through a three-game stretch that consisted of No. 10 McNeese State, No. 17 Sam Houston State and No. 16 Central Arkansas.

The concern for LU will come from the fact that it appears the ‘Jacks’ offense has turned a corner. Against Houston Baptist, the Lumberjacks scored a season-high 42 points behind a balanced attack that saw SFA record 219 yards rushing and 273 passing yards. SFA’s defense also held the Huskies’ to just two scores. A performance similar to the 17 points surrendered to then-No. 10 McNeese State.

The Cardinals’ offense has hung its hat on a high-powered ground game. Big Red leads the league averaging 247 rushing yards per game.

The Cardinals, who were already leading the league, received a shot in the arm with the return sophomore running back Myles Wanza. The Houston native is coming off a career-high 168-yard rushing performance against Sam Houston State, and is averaging nearly 125 rushing yards per game since his return.

Defensively, the Cardinals have put up a unique stat line in 2018. Big Red is 11th in the league in pass defense, but third nationally with 13 interceptions.

The Cardinals are three games over .500 all-time against Stephen F. Austin (15-12, .556), but that record falls to 6-6 (.500) in Nacogdoches. The Cardinals are just 1-4 (.200) against SFA since the program’s return in 2010, but last season was the first time the two schools had met on the gridiron since 2013. The Cardinals lone victory during that stretch came in 2013 when LU hit a field goal with seconds remaining for a 46-45 victory. SFA recorded a 34-7 decision in Beaumont last year. This will be the Cardinals’ first trip to Nacogdoches since the 2012 campaign.

Saturday’s game will begin at 3 p.m. from Homer Bryce Stadium in Nacogdoches. It can be heard live on Newstalk 560 KLVI.