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Cardinals play first Southland Conference game since 1986

For the first time since the 1986 season, the Lamar University Cardinals will be involved in a Southland Conference football race when they take on Southeastern Louisiana University Saturday in a 3 p.m. game in 7,408-seat Strawberry Stadium.

Lamar went 2-1 in its non-conference games, while Southeastern Louisiana dropped a 48-27 decision at then 18th-ranked McNeese State in its 2011 SLC opener last week to fall to 1-3 on the season. Southeastern Louisiana’s lone win this season was 63-6 over Savannah State on Sept. 10, while Lamar is coming off a hard-fought 45-35 home victory of 45-35 over the University of Incarnate Word in its last game on Sept. 17.

Lamar had its best offensive game of the season against Incarnate Word, producing 469 total yards.  The Cardinals also managed their best balancing act, getting 212 rushing yards and 257 passing yards.

Senior quarterback Andre Bevil of West Orange-Stark led the way by completing 14 of 19 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns – 10 yards to senior split end J.J. Hayes and 25 yards to sophomore wide receiver Kye Hildreth.

Hayes, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound product of Diboll High School, caught four passes for a season-high 96 yards. Junior running back DePauldrick Garrett scored his team-leading fifth touchdown of the season on a 21-yard first-quarter run, and the Cardinals also received TD runs of 9 yards from junior Mike Venson and 6 yards from senior Octavious Logan.

Quarterback Brian Young sparked SLU’s offensive efforts against McNeese by throwing touchdown passes of 8 yards to Simmie Yarborough, 64 yards to Brandon Collins and 20 yards to Carl Pearson. Young completed 22 of 43 passes for 288 yards and was intercepted twice.

Kicker Seth Sebastian accounted for the Lions’ other nine points with field goals of 21 and 33 yards and three conversion kicks. Collins’ six receptions for 115 yards led the team, but the Lions mustered only 85 rushing yards.

Hayes needs 35 receiving yards against Southeastern Louisiana to reach the 1,000-yard milestone in his one-plus seasons as a Cardinal. It’s a mark reached previously by only 12 other Cardinals, the last two being Chris Ford (1,251 yards) and Chris Lafferty (1,242 yards) during the 1989 season.

Hayes led Lamar in receiving last season with 52 catches for 745 yards, and he has added team-highs of 10 catches for 220 yards through the Cardinals’ first three games this fall. That gives him career totals of 62 receptions for 965 yards going into Saturday’s game.

Hayes had six TD catches as a junior, and he has added three more this year. He had three catches for 45 yards in the Cardinals’ 58-0 season-opening victory over Texas College, and he has followed that effort with three more grabs for 79 yards (including a 26-yarder for Lamar’s only touchdown) in a 30-8 loss to South Alabama and four catches for 96 yards and two scores in the 45-35 victory over the University of Incarnate Word.

The Cardinals’ last conference exposure came in a 38-7 loss at McNeese State on Nov. 22, 1986. Lamar’s last conference victory was 10-6 over North Texas at home on Sept. 15, 1984.

Overall, Lamar is 9-14 in its Southland Conference football openers. The Cardinals won their first SLC game, 14-3 at home against Abilene Christian in 1964, and they went on to win three more SLC openers before dropping a 38-14 decision to Abilene Christian in 1968.

With Vernon Glass as head coach, Lamar won outright SLC championships in 1964 and 1965 and shared the league title in 1966 and 1971, but the Cardinals aren’t predicted to fare so well in their return to conference play after a 25-year hiatus.

Lamar finished last in the balloting of both the SLC’s head coaches and the league’s sports information directors’ preseason polls released by the conference office in late July. McNeese State was the coaches’ preseason choice to win the conference championship, while Stephen Austin was the top vote-getter in the SIDs’ poll.

Southeastern Louisiana finished seventh, just ahead of Lamar, in both polls. Southeastern received 15 points to Lamar’s nine in the coaches’ poll and 15 points to the Cardinals’ eight in the SIDs’ poll.

In a non-conference game against Southeastern Louisiana last season, Bevil threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Hayes with 1:52 remaining, and Mark Murrill recovered a last-minute fumble to highlight Lamar’s comeback from a 20-point deficit in its 29-28 upset victory.

In coming within 12 yards of his school-record 429 passing yards set two weeks earlier against McNeese State, Bevil guided the Cardinals on an 11-play, 80-yard drive to the winning score. His 34 completions (on 55 attempts) gave him another school record.

Murrill’s game-preserving fumble recovery came at the Lamar 48-yard line with 59.3 seconds remaining, and the Cardinals drained the clock on four plays to run their early-season record to 2-1.

In addition to Hayes’ leaping catch in the back of the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown, Bevil threw scoring strikes of 21 yards to Hayes in the first quarter and 13 yards to Hayes in the third as well as a 2-yarder to Marcus Jackson early in the fourth.

Running back Zeke Jones scored on runs of 1 and 5 yards, and Young threw a 30-yard pass to wide receiver Kory Theodore as the Lions built a 28-8 lead, but the Cardinals scored the game’s final 21 points.

Theodore finished the game with a career-high 164 yards on seven catches, and Sam Fairley rushed 23 times for 98 yards for the Lions.

Lamar owns a 2-1 all-time series advantage over Southeastern Louisiana, having won 31-21 in Beaumont in 1967 and dropping a 21-19 decision to the Lions in Hammond, La. in 1969 before the schools renewed the series last season.