SAN ANTONIO – UIW Cardinals Football dominated early and often as they cruised to an easy 45-17 victory over No. 6 McNeese State (5-2, 4-1) at Benson Stadium on Saturday night.
The win saw the Cardinals rebound from a heartbreaking loss to Lamar last weekend and is their first ever win over a ranked opponent in program history.
“It feels good to get a bad taste out of our mouths that strung about a week [after] losing a game like we did last week to a good Lamar team,” UIW Head Coach Eric Morris said. “It feels good for our kids to have worked so hard during the week and come out and get a team victory. I mean, our defense played lights out pretty much the whole game. I’m proud of those guys and the way that they stepped up and continue to get better each and every week.”
UIW opened the scoring on their first drive of the game when freshman quarterback Jon Copeland found Phillip Baptiste for a 20-yard touchdown reception, putting the Cardinals 7-0 less than three minutes into the game.
After McNeese added a field goal, the Cardinals added to their lead on their next drive. Copeland connected with Lamont Johnson on an 8-yard touchdown pass to make it a 14-3 ball game.
The Cardinals would use a 14-point second quarter to blow the game wide open and never look back. Ra’Quanne Dickens blasted his way through the McNeese defense and into the end zone for a seven-yard score and Copeland scrambled for a 4-yard score, putting UIW up 28-3 at the break.
UIW started the second half slow as Copeland’s pass was intercepted on the first drive of the third quarter. The Cardinals were called for pass interference, which set up a McNeese touchdown from James Tabary to Kylon Highshaw, cutting the Cardinals lead to 28-10.
Copeland quickly redeemed himself as he connected with Baptiste for the second time in the game, this time with a 15-yard pass for a score.
Copeland would finish the night with 24 completions for 236 passing yards and three touchdowns.
“We really wanted to come back from last week,” Copeland said. “We put our heads down this week and went to work. We knew we had to take care of the ball this week and we did. Our offense was moving and our defense had some turnovers. We couldn’t ask for more.”
McNeese scored on the opening play of the fourth quarter to make it 38-17 but UIW’s defense came up with a pick-six as Louis Otis made a 37-yard interception return for a score for the final score of the night.
With the win, the Cardinals moved to first place in the Southland Conference and it was last week’s loss that fueled the fire.
“I feel like that tough loss was needed,” Baptiste said. “I think we needed it to come back this week to work hard and come back for this win.”
UIW’s season continues to set program records as Saturday night saw the Cardinals defeat a ranked opponent for the first time in their ten year history. And as Morris said, the success of the school’s football team is all about the small details.
“I haven’t taken a holistic approach to this team because we had to fix so many little things when I got here,” he said. “So we’re really paying attention to detail, taking it day-by-day, game-by-game. I really thought that’s what we needed moving forward as a program. They continue to buy in and do it, and anytime you can knock off the number 6 program in the nation in that fashion on a win like that is something I’ll remember for a long time.”
The UIW Cardinals are now 4-3 (4-1, SLC) on the season and will return to the field next Saturday when they travel to Louisiana to face Nicholls (4-3, 3-2) at 3 p.m. Central Time.