(STATS) - The buzz started for Lamar after its admirable first-half resistance against Baylor, and it grew with a win over Sam Houston State that marked the school's most significant victory since the program's revival.
Excitement may go off the charts Thursday night if the Cardinals can top the Southland Conference's other co-champion from last season, Southeastern Louisiana.
Lamar (2-1, 1-0) got pats on the back for hanging with the FBS' then-No. 4 ranked team Sept. 12, tying the game at 21-all late in the second quarter before succumbing to a 66-31 defeat. The Cardinals showed that performance was no fluke the following weekend with a 49-46 win over Sam Houston, the Southland preseason favorites and the formerly third-ranked team in the STATS poll.
"It was one of those games that we haven't been competitive in, let alone won. It was a big win for us," said coach Ray Woodard, whose team was picked to finish eighth in the league. "Now the smoke's cleared and the celebration is over with, we're looking at a really good Southeastern team that we have to play."
The Cardinals, who are just outside the STATS Top 25, and the No. 22 Lions both got bye weeks heading into the game, giving each a chance to heal. Southeastern (2-1, 1-0) was severely depleted for a 35-14 loss at Ohio on Sept. 19 with quarterback D'Shaie Landor, STATS preseason All-American Xavier Roberson and running back Julius Maraclin among the missing.
Landor is expected to return from an injured right shoulder that's kept him out since the first quarter of a 28-17 win against Florida Tech on Sept. 12, and the versatile Roberson will likely be back from a bruised knee. Maraclin, who had 120 yards on 12 carries in his collegiate debut Sept. 3, is considered doubtful because of an ailing hamstring.
The Lions might also have some missing players on the defensive line (A.J. Bowen and Miki Fangatua), but could get Taylor Cochran and Solomon Parker back. Cochran hasn't played this season due to a concussion.
Those returnees should boost the Lions' efforts to slow Kade Harrington, who ran for a career-high 230 yards and scored three touchdowns in the win over Sam Houston. In addition, junior college transfer Carson Earp threw for four touchdowns in the victory.
"This is going to be a huge week. They're playing at a very high level right now," Southeastern Louisiana coach Ron Roberts said. "They're a team playing with a lot of confidence. ... It's always been a battle, and I don't expect it to be any different."
The Cardinals might get all-conference defensive lineman Omar Tebo back from what's reportedly a knee injury as they try to stop a Lions rushing attack that's burned them the past two seasons.
Southeastern had 310 yards in a 56-34 victory in 2013, then a school-record 484 in a 61-34 win last season en route to its second straight Southland title. Lamar won the first two games in the series after bringing back its program in 2010, but Southeastern has taken all three meetings with Roberts on the sideline.
One of the game's marquee matchups will be STATS preseason All-America defensive back Harlan Miller versus Lamar wideout Reggie Begelton. Miller has three interceptions in the first three games, one shy of matching his career high from 2012, while Begelton has 19 catches for 157 yards and three touchdowns.
Begelton has topped 100 yards in each of the last two games against the Lions. Already the program's career leader with 189 receptions, he needs just 52 yards to top Ronnie Gebauer's school mark of 2,098 from 1967-70.