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NCAA PLAYOFF NOTEBOOK: Colbert earns another player of week award

Darrel Colbert Jr.’s late touchdown run has reaped many rewards for him and Lamar.

The Cardinals beat McNeese State on his game-winning 1-yard run with 2:04 remaining and strengthened their resume enough for a bid in the NCAA Division I playoffs. In addition, the Southland Conference named Colbert its offensive player of the week, the fifth time this year Lamar (7-4, 6-3 Southland) has received such an honor.

Colbert rushed 19 times for 110 yards and completed 9 of 14 passes for 148 yards and another TD. He organized the winning drive of four plays in 86 yards in just 79 seconds, the biggest play of which was a 39-yard pass to Zae Giles to the 1.

Colbert also came back from a minor injury after a long carry during the game to lead Lamar.

Cornerback Caleb Abrom (Oct. 15), punter Tyler Slaydon (Oct. 22) and backup quarterback Jordan Hoy (Oct. 29 and Nov. 5) also won conference player of the week honors this season.


How did this whole streak start?

When one streak all but doomed the Cardinals’ season, another turned it around and gave them life.

“Since I got here, the staff and I had a vision,” said Schultz, who’s leading Lamar to its first playoff berth in his second season at the helm. “When you have a vision and you put a plan with it, it becomes a goal. What we asked our players to do, we asked them to buy into the process and trust the process.”

Coming off a 2-9 season, the process was getting more arduous for a team that hadn’t tasted a winning season since 2014, but was getting close to producing more victories following close losses to Northwestern State and Southeastern Louisiana. Those defeats were sandwiched by a 77-0 shutout defeat at Texas Tech and 50-27 loss at eventual Southland co-champion Nicholls State.

Then, a miracle came.

Lamar has not lost since Abrom’s 66-yard “block-six” gave the host Cards a 27-21 win at home over Incarnate Word. That was on Oct. 13.

“I think what we’re seeing is a bunch of kids who did what we asked them to do,” Schultz said. “They bought into the process, and they trust the process. And, when they do that, they buy into the process and they trust the process, you create a belief system. Once you create a belief system, which our players did, I think you’re seeing the results that incredible things can happen.”

Schultz said he would not have doubted the process had Lamar not received an at-large bid.

“The NCAA, for what it’s worth — I’ve been doing this a long time — they put rules in place, and usually the rules in place are to benefit the kids,” Schultz said. He likened that process to the policies the NCAA has in place for each student-athlete’s progress toward a degree.


First look at Northern Iowa

The only other time Lamar and Northern Iowa faced off in football, it was in a postseason game played in Abilene on Dec. 12, 1964. Then-State College of Iowa won the Pecan Bowl 19-17 for the NCAA College Division Midwest Regional title. (No tournament format was used until 1973.)

Now, they meet in a national contest in UNI’s home — the UNI-Dome (“you-nih-dome”). The facility, which also hosts UNI’s men’s basketball team (remember the one that beat Texas on a half-court shot and blew a 10-point lead late against Texas A&M both in the 2016 NCAA tournament?), seats 16,324 and opened in 1976.

It will be Lamar’s first game in a dome since it restarted the football program in 2010. Beating the cold weather in northeast Iowa — the Weather.com forecast for Saturday is partly sunny with a high of 42 degrees and low of 26 with a 20 percent chance of rain — is one thing, but playing in a loud environment is another.

“We’re trying to make arrangements to get our kids inside a dome to do a few things,” Mike Schultz said. “… I’ve had coaches on our staff that has actually coached in there. This is one [dome] I haven’t been in. … They say it’s as loud as any stadium they’ve been in.”

UNI (6-5, 5-3 Missouri Valley), led by 18th-year head coach Mark Farley, played for the national championship in 2005, losing to Appalachian State 21-16. The Panthers’ furthest finish since is the semifinal round in 2008 (lost to Richmond 21-20).

UNI beat Indiana State 37-0 on Saturday, creating a third-place tie with the Sycamores. The Panthers have alternated wins and losses in their last four games and have played a challenging schedule that includes a season-opening loss to then-No. 24 Montana (26-23), defending national champion and No. 1 North Dakota State (lost 56-31), then-No. 2 South Dakota State (won 24-9), then-No. 13 Illinois State (won 26-16).

Farley said the Panthers’ strength of schedule was a factor in the Panthers’ at-large berth, according to the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier.


Thanksgiving plans

Schultz is allowing players whose families are within a 90-mile drive of Beaumont to spend time with the families and be back in time for a Friday flight to Iowa.

“We’re a family-first team, so I don’t want to deny those guys from being able to spend that time with their family.”

I.C. Murrell: 721-2435. Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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