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‘Lamar is on the rise’ — Coach promises return to national stage

November 26, 2018

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — As Northern Iowa players rushed the field after escaping a first-round upset on Saturday at home, Lamar University senior lineman Garrett Bowery took a knee and stared blankly.

A towel draped over his head, Cardinals senior quarterback Darrell Colbert Jr. stopped for one last look at the UNI-Dome field before walking down the tunnel. That was it for his collegiate career.

After shocking the FCS football scene for most of the season, the Cardinals were the ones left stunned, letting a golden opportunity to advance in the playoffs slip away.

“Winning on the national stage was our goal, senior linebacker Chaston Brooks said at the postgame press conference. “We didn’t come here to lose.”

Chances to pull the upset were plentiful for the Cardinals, who fell just three points shy of their goal during a 16-13 road loss in Lamar’s FCS playoff debut.

RELATED: Late miscues send Lamar football home from FCS playoffs

Lamar wasn’t content with just competing, nor was the close call easy to swallow. But going toe-to-toe with a perennial FCS powerhouse showed a sign of things to come for the Cardinals, coach Mike Schultz said.

“There are no moral victories in this thing,” Schultz said. “I’ve been doing this for 37 years, and not one time have I ever came away feeling good about a loss. But this has set a goal for us, without a doubt.

“It’s not about coming and competing at this level. It’s about coming here and winning.”

A little more than an hour after the loss, Lamar players piled into a small plane at Waterloo Regional Airport outside Cedar Falls, quietly taking their seats for the flight back to Beaumont.

The two-hour trip was a time of reflection. The Cardinals’ loss on Saturday was their first since falling to Nicholls in early October. Disappointment was an unfamiliar feeling, at least as of late.

Last season, Lamar struggled through a 2-9 campaign during Schultz’s first season at the helm. Things didn’t click right away as players adjusted to a new system and coaching style.

“When Schultz first got here, it was like a knock in the face,” Brooks said. “But we just kept working, kept grinding and listening to his preachings.”

No one could have expected what would come next. After starting its Southland Conference schedule 0-3, Lamar rattled off six straight wins en route to an at-large bid into the FCS playoffs.

If Lamar’s long win streak secured its spot in the FCS playoffs, a competitive road game in the first round certainly proved the Cardinals belonged.

Just ask UNI coach Mark Farley, who said the Panthers had a hard time keeping up with Lamar’s speed. He called Lamar’s senior quarterback one of the toughest they’ve faced all season.

“They were very fast, and we had to adjust to it,” Farley said postgame. “And then we found out that (Colbert) had as good of strength as he had quickness and speed. That really caused us problems.”

Lamar was one of three Southland squads to make the postseason tournament — the others being Nicholls and Incarnate Word. Nicholls was the only SLC team to win its first-round game, easily defeating San Diego.

Schultz said Lamar now has specific goals moving forward, the same ones written on a “pyramid board” back at the team complex.

Those goals in order: Make the FCS playoffs, take a Southland Conference title and win the national championship.

“If you don’t have those goals up on the pyramid board, then doggone it you’re never going to hit them,” Schultz said. “I know some of those are very lofty at the top, but you have to have something to focus on. You have to have a system in place and have goals.

“This year what happened was we had kids buy into the process and buy into the goals.”

Colbert expects continued success at Lamar, citing a plethora of returning players and a boosted recruiting pitch that now features an FCS playoff appearance on the resume.

“Lamar is on the rise,” Colbert said. “This is not the last time you’ll see Lamar on the national stage.”

mfaye@beaumontenterprise.com

twitter.com/mattGfaye

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