LU defense makes a stop against McNeese State Saturday evening at Provost Umphrey Stadium.

The Lamar University Cardinals took the nation’s second-ranked team down to the wire but came up just short falling to McNeese State, 20-14, Saturday night at Provost Umphrey Stadium. The six-point setback ends LU’s season (5-6/4-5 Southland) one win shy of its first consecutive winning seasons since the 1966 and 1967 seasons.

The Cardinals battled their rivals down to the wire despite managing only 176 yards of total offense. McNeese State finished the night with 443 yards of offense, including 406 rushing, but struggled in the red zone. The Red and White held McNeese State to a 2-of-6 (.333) performance when they moved inside the 20-yard line.

An unfortunate trend that has victimized the LU all season, McNeese State had the ball for 39:13, nearly 19 minutes longer than the Cardinals.

The Cardinals managed only 63 rushing yards against the league’s top rush defense. Junior running back Kade Harrington was held to 70 yards on 17 carries – his lowest production since the second game of the year.

“I was surprised because I thought we might get more yards running the football tonight,” said head coach Ray Woodard. “You have to give credit to McNeese State. That defense has been stopping the run all season. There is a reason why they’re the best in the conference at stopping the run. That is a really good football team.”

After forcing a three-and-out on the first drive, the Cardinals fumbled the punt return back to McNeese on their own 36-yard line. Five plays later, McNeese’s Jean Breaux converted a 32-yard field goal to give the Cowboys the first lead of the game.

The next score was also set up by a muffed return, but this time it was the Cowboys who fumbled the ball away. After fielding the ball in LU territory, McNeese State’s David Bush returned the ball six yards before fumbling it at the 34. It was picked up and returned 66 yards by freshman Dedrick Garner for the touchdown. After a lengthy review, the play was upheld and the Cardinals claimed a four-point lead, 7-3.

The Cowboys answered back less than a minute later when Ryan Ross capped a three-play, 75-yard drive with a 26-yard run. McNeese appeared to be on the verge of running away with the game after Daniel Sams closed out the first half with a 32-yard touchdown run.

The Cardinals defense stiffened in the second half allowing only three points to their guests. The McNeese field goal came with 8:26 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Cardinals cut into the deficit when senior Joe Minden found classmate Devonn Brown from 32 yards out to pull within six points, 20-14, with just under five to play.

Big Red went back on defense with 4:37 remaining in the contest and a full compliment of time outs. LU forced three third downs but was unable to get the stop as the nationally ranked Cowboys escaped with the win.

Junior Xavier Bethany led the Cardinals with 13 tackles, including one for a loss. He was one of three players in double figures as classmate Larance Hale had 12 – including 2.5 for losses – and senior Ronnie Jones added 11.