Lamar Focuses on Southland Opener

GO CARDINALS Lamar heads to Sam Houston State for Southland opener.
Lamar heads to Sam Houston State for Southland opener.

Oct. 10, 2013

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The Lamar Cardinal football team enters Saturday's Southland Conference opener looking for their third consecutive victory, but it faces a very tough task in No. 2 Sam Houston State. The two-time defending conference champions have rattled off three-straight victories and are coming off a 49-34 thumping over then No. 2 Eastern Washington at home. Lamar is 3-2 (.600) after recording one of the biggest come-from-behind victories since reviving the program. The Cardinals found themselves down 16-0 at Grambling State in the first 10 minutes of the game before scoring 27-unanswered points to take the win. Both schools enter the conference showdown after an off week.

"The Southland Conference has improved across the board," said head coach Ray Woodard. "It would be great to start the year 1-0, especially when you open against a team as talented as Sam Houston. The Bearkats are extremely talented and very deserving of where they are ranked."

The 3-2 start for Lamar equals its best start since bringing back the program in 2010. Lamar enters Saturday's contest looking for a third consecutive win, something that has only been done one other time since its return. Lamar closed out the 2010 season with consecutive wins, and opened 2011 with a 58-0 victory over Texas College.

Despite the Bearkats success over the past couple of years, SHSU has won less than half of its conference openers since joining the Southland (10-15-1), and is only 5-8 (.385) in league openers at Bowers Stadium. Sam Houston State has won three of its last four Southland openers, but is coming off a 24-20 loss at home last season to Central Arkansas. Although the Bearkats have struggled in conference openers they currently own the nation's longest home win streak.

For all the offensive firepower that both teams bring into the game, the stats will argue that Saturday's game will be dictated by the defenses. Lamar leads the Southland surrendering only 303 yards of total offense, while the Bearkats are third (368.8). The Cards also lead the Southland in pass and scoring defense, while Sam Houston brings the league's best rushing defense into the game. The two schools are also the two least penalized teams in the league.

"We're not coming into this game trying to play perfect, because we won't be perfect," said Woodard. "But we need to be closer to perfect than Sam is. Last year we had some opportunities but mistakes hurt us. We have done a pretty good job this year at eliminating mistakes. We are one of the least penalized teams in the Southland, but so is Sam. So we have to cut down on the mistakes.

"We're doing some things good right now, but now we need to do more things right on the road against a very good football team. That is something in the past that we haven't always been able to do," added Woodard.

The game will feature two of the nation's top running backs at different ends of the career spectrum. The Bearkats feature Walter Payton Award candidate Tim Flanders, who leads the league averaging better than 150 yards per game, while Lamar has the conference's top freshman running back in Kade Harrington. Recently named to the CFPA Freshman Performer of the Year watch list, Harrington is fifth in the league in rushing and is on pace to set a new Lamar rushing record for a freshman.

"We honestly didn't expect Kade to play this year," said Woodard. "Our plans were to redshirt him but he made it nearly impossible for us to do that. From the moment Kade got here, he was making things difficult on our defense. There was just no way we could keep him off the field."

History may be on the Cardinals side heading into the showdown with Sam Houston State. Although the `Kats own the nation's longest home winning streak, the Cardinals have a winning record when coming off an open date. The record is 7-2 (.778) when the Cardinals are coming off an open date in a season that follows a year in which the Cardinals didn't have an off week.

Saturday's game is slated for a 2 p.m. kickoff at Bowers Stadium in Huntsville.




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