Juan Carranco drilled a 23-yard field goal with the clock winding down to hold off No. 17 McNeese State, who rallied to tie the game in the fourth quarter, and gave the Lamar football team a 27-24 win Saturday afternoon at Cowboy Stadium in Southland Conference action.

The win tied Lamar (8-4, 5-3 Southland Conference) school records for victories in a season and victories in Southland Conference play  since it became a four-year institution.  It’s also the first win over McNeese (6-5, 4-4) and a ranked opponent since the program was restarted in 2010.

“(Tying the records) is very big, I don’t know if people realize that we won three conference ball games on the road, lost one in overtime at Central Arkansas,” said head football coach Ray Woodard. “We played well down the stretch. We were 4-3 at one point and finished 8-4.  This was a great bunch to coach.

“We are going through lot of emotions, happy and relieved,” he said. “We have a sense of accomplishment to get this done because we haven’t beaten them and they are the closest team to us.  It means a lot to our program.”

Lamar faced a third down and three to gain when Caleb Berry, who broke his own record for passing touchdowns in a season (33), completed pass to Jayce Nelson, who fumbled the ball and allowed Dominique Hill to scoop the ball and score with 3:32 left and a six-point lead.

During Hill’s return, MSU was called for two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, but after the play was reviewed the ruling was overturned for an incomplete pass.  Due to the penalties, Lamar was given a first down and the ball was placed at the McNeese 42 yard line.

After two rushes from Kade Harrington and another by Caleb Berry, the Cardinals faced a fourth down and three to gain.  LU elected to go for it and Berry completed a four-yard pass to a diving Reggie Begelton.

“Reggie has done that since he has been here, and I am looking forward to having him another year,” said Woodard. “He’s already our receptions leader, and he is going to put that out of reach next year.”

Berry scampered 13 yards on second down to move the chains, and three plays later Lamar faced a third and two when Harrington moved the chains on a four-yard rush with time winding down.

Woodard called a timeout with four seconds remaining before McNeese called two to freeze the kicker, but Carranco split the uprights and turned around and celebrated as the clock hit zero.

“Juan missed two earlier, and I’m glad he made up for it at the end,” said Woodard. I am very happy and very proud for him.

“We played this exact game last year and lost it, and that just shows how we’ve matured and grown up,” he said.

Lamar opened the final quarter with a 14-point lead, but after a three-and-out opened the frame, McNeese drove the field to pick up a five-yard touchdown pass from Will Briscoe to David Bush.

Three drives later, Lamar started at its 37 yard line, and Berry threw his second interception in the game to Hill, who returned it to the 13 yard line.  Briscoe threw his second scoring pass to Ernest Celestie from 10 yards out to tie the game at 24.

“I thought we had the game won, but you have to give McNeese credit for the way they fought, said Woodard. “I knew for us to win one (at Cowboy Stadium) it was going to have to be that kind of game.”

McNeese opened up the game with a 20-yard score on a pass from Tyler Bolfing to Khalil Thomas with 9:19 to play in the first quarter.

LU answered with 17 points on two touchdown passes from Caleb Berry and a 24-yard kick from Carranco.  Berry hit Nelson from 17 yards out with 4:45 to play in the opening frame, and hit Mark Roberts from 43 yards out just under three minutes later.

Roberts’ touchdown catch gave him sole possession of the single-season mark.

Carranco hit his first field goal with 9:10 to play in the second quarter.  McNeese’s Alex Kjellsten answered on a 31-yarder with 4:27 left to go in the opening half to make it 17-10.

Harrington made it 24-10 with the only score in the third quarter on a two yard run with 7:15 to play. The big play in that drive was Harrington’s four-yard run that gave the Cardinals a fourth down
conversion, in which the LU was 3-3 for the day, after a roughing the kicker call against McNeese to cut the first down distance from six to one.

Berry finished the game with 27 completions on 53 attempts for 327 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.  He also led the team with 91 yards rushing, followed by Harrington’s 65 yards.  He finishes his career as Lamar’s record holder in several passing categories.

“We are where we are because of (Berry’s) hard work,” said Woodard. “I am very proud he was on the field to lead us down and put us in position to win the game.”

Begelton had seven receptions for 95 yards and Mark Roberts had six grabs for 103 yards.

Anthony Beard led the team with nine tackles followed by Ronnie Jones (7) and Seth Ellis (6).  Lloyd Julian and Corbin Carr each had five tackles.

Will Briscoe finished with 144 passing yards on 15 completions and two touchdowns. Ryan Ross was tops on the team with 77 rushing yards, and Khalil Thomas had 52 yards on four catches in the game.