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FOOTBALL: Lamar stops McNeese late, bolsters playoff case

Lamar sports information

LAKE CHARLES – Trailing by three with just over 3 minutes remaining, senior Darrel Colbert Jr. guided Lamar on a four-play, 86-yard drive that ended with his 1-yard plunge for the game-winning score.

The Cardinals’ defense prevented McNeese State from moving the ball on its final drive to preserve the 21-17 victory at Cowboy Stadium Saturday evening.

The victory – LU’s second over McNeese since the program’s return and just the 10th all-time – pushed the Cardinals win streak to six consecutive games as the Red and White ends the regular season with a 7-4 overall mark and third in Southland with a 6-3 mark.

“For a rivalry to be a rivalry, we have to start living up to our end of the bargain. Prior to tonight we had recorded only nine victories all-time in the series,” said LU head coach Mike Schultz. “I’m very happy for these kids and for our fans. This is a night for them to enjoy.”

The Cardinals finished the night with 448 yards of total offense, outgaining their hosts by nearly 150 yards. The majority of LU’s damage came on the ground as Big Red rushed for 279 yards. Colbert led the way with 19 carries for 110 yards and the game-winning score and he was one of three Cardinals to rush for at least 81 yards in the game.

Colbert also completed 9 of 14 passes for 148 yards and a touchdown. Junior Case Robinson had two very key receptions in the game for 80 yards and a touchdown.

“You talk about the adversity (Darrel) has had to overcome all season, and to do what he has done is very special,” said Schultz. “He had to deal with the injury against Sam Houston and then got sick and missed two weeks of practice. The poise that he showed on that final drive is what he has done for us all season.”

Defensively, the Cardinals were led by seniors Davon Jernigan and Lane Taylor who both ended the day with eight tackles. Jernigan also recorded the interception on McNeese’s final drive to ice the victory.

After both teams were forced to punt the ball away on their first possession, the Cardinals broke through on its second drive. Big Red started the drive on their 24 and moved the ball 76 yards down the field on six plays. The drive ended with a 14-yard touchdown run from junior A.J. Walker – his second of the season. The TD was setup by a 44-yard pass from Colbert to junior Case Robinson.

The score remained 7-0 until the end of the first half when McNeese put together its first scoring drive of the day. Gunnar Rayborn capped a 12-play, 83-yard drive by converting a 29-yard field goal with 92 second remaining in the half.

The defensive struggle of a first half ended with LU recording 154 yards of total offense. McNeese finished the first 30 minutes of action with 176 yards, including 112 on the ground. LU’s defense kept McNeese’s James Tabary off balance completing just 6 of his first 21 attempts.

Big Red added to its lead on fourth and less than a yard from the McNeese 36. After Colbert got stopped on a run up the middle, Colbert faked the run on fourth down and dumped the ball off over the middle to Robinson for a 36-yard touchdown pass. The score gave LU a 14-3 advantage with 4:12 remaining in the third quarter. The momentum lasted mere seconds as Benjamin Jones took the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. McNeese lined up for a two-point conversion but had the pass batted away at the last second.

The Cardinals put together another strong drive but it stalled at the McNeese 27. Big Red elected to attempt the field goal, but Martinez’s kick was wide left. The Cowboys took advantage two plays later when David Hamm broke a tackle and carried the ball 63 yards for the score to give McNeese its first lead of the game, 15-14. The Cowboys went for two again and converted it to take a three-point lead, 17-14, with 14:39 remaining.

The Cowboys held the lead down the stretch as LU got the ball back with 3:23 remaining. The moment was setup for high drama, but Colbert and company didn’t make Big Red fans wait long for the final outcome. After runs of 18 and 28 yards from Colbert and sophomore Myles Wanza, respectively, Colbert went for it all on the third play of the drive. Scrambling out of the pocket, Colbert caught Zae Giles streaking the down middle of the field and heaved his way. Giles got a step on the defender and dove for the pass at the last second hauling it in at the one. Colbert put the Cards back in front on the next play with his one-yard plunge across the goal line.

Saturday’s contest serves as the regular-season finale for both schools. The future of Cardinals’ program now lies with the NCAA FCS selection committee. The selection show will air on ESPNU Sunday at 11:30 a.m. Central.