Southland shuffle scuttles 70-season NSU-McNeese football rivalry

CARDINAL SIN:  The Southland Conference has halted a 70-season string of rivalry matchups between Northwestern State and McNeese, in a schedule shuffle prompted by Lamar’s return to the league this fall.

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

NATCHITOCHES – The return of Lamar to the Southland Conference was good news for Northwestern State – until Wednesday.

That’s when the conference office issued a revised 2022 conference football schedule without a matchup between NSU and its biggest rival, McNeese.

For the first time since the 1951 season (except for 2020 when the pandemic pushed the season to spring 2021), the Demons and Cowboys will not meet in football.

They were previously slated to collide in Natchitoches to end the regular season on Nov. 19, but now McNeese will meet Lamar and the Demons will face Incarnate Word in Turpin Stadium.

Earlier this year, Lamar withdrew from its brief and ill-fated membership in the Western Athletic Conference and announced it would rejoin the Southland effective with the 2023-24 athletic year. Earlier this week, Lamar and the Southland announced the Cardinals were back in the SLC effective immediately.

That decision had actually been reached some time in June, when the conference office and scheduling consultants began restructuring the Southland football slate to accommodate Lamar’s return.

NSU will play Lamar in Turpin Stadium to kick off the Southland season on Sept. 24. Earlier this week, coaches from Northwestern heard from their counterparts at McNeese that the Demons-Cowboys contest originally slated for Nov. 19 would move up to that date.

But an apparent late shuffle in the Southland office scuttled that.

Fans, coaches, and staff at Northwestern and McNeese were stunned to learn their teams would not meet, pausing the annual rivalry – the longest in the conference by far. The Southland’s failure to prioritize that matchup was already being criticized after the league’s announcement.

The revised slate didn’t impact the Demons’ non-conference slate. NSU opens at Montana and on Sept. 10 comes to Independence Stadium in Shreveport to match up against Grambling.

The Demons have only four games at home in Turpin Stadium. Twice, they will play two consecutive road games and four of their last six contests are away from Natchitoches.

The revised 2022 Northwestern State football schedule:  Sept. 3 at Montana, Sept. 10 vs. Grambling (Independence Stadium, Shreveport); Sept. 17 at Southern Mississippi; Sept. 24 home vs. Lamar*; Oct. 1 home vs. Nicholls*;  Oct. 8 at Eastern Illinois; Oct. 15 at Houston Baptist*; Oct. 22 home vs. Southeast Missouri (homecoming); Oct. 29 open date; Nov. 5 at Texas A&M-Commerce*; Nov. 12 at Southeastern Louisiana*; Nov. 19 home vs. Incarnate Word*

Note = *asterisk indicates Southland Conference games.

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Photo by CHRIS REICH, Northwestern State