Former players remember heated UL-McNeese rivalry

Kevin Foote,
The Cajuns finally ended a 10-year win drought with a 48-16 win over McNeese State in 1983, overcoming Buford Jordan and the Cowboys.

It didn’t take very long for those old bitter feelings to return.

Nate Thornton played wide receiver, running back and tight end for the then-USL Ragin’ Cajuns from 1970-74.

He was part of only two Cajun classes to actually enjoy moderate success against their arch-rival McNeese State Cowboys over the past 45 years. USL beat McNeese 13-7 his red-shirt season of 1970 and again 10-0 in 1972 to finish 2-3 during his collegiate career in Lafayette.

More than three decades later, Thornton was in the stands when UL and McNeese State renewed their heated rivalry at Cajun Field in 2007.

When the Cowboys left town with a 38-17 win, Thornton just couldn’t take it.

He was forced to relive all of those old feelings of despising the enemies from Lake Charles all over again.

“It was horrible,” Thornton said. “I threw away everything that I had that was red. I was that upset.”

RELATED: UL's Desormeaux: 'This game means a lot'

MORE: UL vs. McNeese State: The Particulars

At 6 p.m. Saturday at Cajun Field, Thornton will get another crack at the Cowboys when the two old rivals square off for only the second time since 1986.

“All of those old feelings came back (in the 2007 game),” Thornton said. “The kids today don’t have a clue. When I played, we hated McNeese. I mean we hated them. We hated everything about McNeese and the city of Lake Charles.”

And the feeling was mutual.

In a McNeese State sports information story this week focusing on the old rivalry, a longtime Cowboys fan delivered a similar sentiment.

“It’s hard to explain how thoroughly we despised USL back in the '70s and '80s,” the McNeese State fan said. “To this day, I won’t wear red.”

Going from the Southland Conference to Independent status then to the Big West and now in the Sun Belt, UL long ago lost anything that resembles that kind of a natural rivalry.

Former UL receiver Willie Culpepper (3) was largely responsible for the Cajuns' last win over McNeese State, a 33-13 victory in 1986.

New coaches come and go and the intensity fades away with them. But it lingers in the fans.

“It was rough for us because we knew all their players, because we played against them in high school,” said Dwight Prudhomme, who played for the Cajuns from 1979-82 and went 0-3-1 vs. the Cowboys. “We would see them (area McNeese players) throughout the year and they had the bragging rights. It was hard to swallow.

“The rivalry was huge back then. I can remember the JV games even being packed when we played McNeese.”

RELATED: Five Things to Watch: UL vs. McNeese State

Prudhomme is hoping the 2016 UL coaches and players don’t fall into the trap of believing UL vs. McNeese is just another game.

“Oh no,” he said. “This is a huge game. To me, this game is going to set the theme for the rest of the season. If we come out and play well and win, it’ll give us renewed hope. But if we lay an egg, it’ll be just like the last time.

"I'm glad we're playing them again. I think it's great. But it does make me nervous."

After losing to McNeese in 2007, the Cajuns lost five of the last six on their way to a 3-9 season. Ricky Bustle was fired after the 2010 season.

Saturday will be the first UL-McNeese game in the Mark Hudspeth era.

Thornton remembers a new head coach struggling with the rivalry. In his final season in 1974, Augie Tammariello replaced Russ Faulkinberry, who had coached at USL since 1961.

Faulkinberry was a drill sergeant. Tammariello wasn’t.

Former UL quarterback Dwight Prudhomme went 0-3-1 vs. McNeese State during his career with the Cajuns.

“I was a fifth-year senior by then, and I could just tell we were in trouble,” Thornton said. “We had just barely lost at Tulane (17-16) in the opener and everybody in town was all excited about that. Augie was loosey goosey compared to Faulkinberry.”

Thornton still had the memories of 1972 game when the McNeese game came after a bye week.

“We knew we were in for it the whole week,” Thornton said of the brutal two-a-day practices.

So sensing complacency two years later, Thornton asked for a meeting with his new coach and tried to explain to him how intense this McNeese State game was going to be.

“He said, ‘OK, Nate, we’re ready, don’t worry,’” Thornton said. “I knew then he didn’t get it, and we got our butts handed to us.”

Indeed, Thornton was right. The Cowboys blasted the Cajuns 38-0 that night to begin a 10-year stretch where UL went 0-8-2 against McNeese State.

Former Sunset High player Rusty Guilbeau, who later played with the New York Jets and the Cleveland Browns in the NFL, remembers well that big McNeese run of success when he played from 1979-81.

Five Things to Watch: UL vs. McNeese State

“We did enjoy a lot of success, but more than that, I just remember how big it was for both universities and how involved the student bodies and the communities were,” Guilbeau said. “It was big for so many people from the hotel owner to the restaurant manager, everybody. It was a great rivalry.”

Both Guilbeau and Thornton told stories of fraternities and sororities literally performing a relay with a football from Lafayette all the way to Lake Charles.

“As people, we’re so routine-oriented,” Guilbeau said. “We do the same things from day to day, but when USL and McNeese played, it was different. It was special. It was a shame when the two programs stopped playing each other. I know it's not going to happen, but I wish they played every year.”

Guilbeau said he doesn’t buy the old argument that if McNeese wins, it would kill UL’s recruiting.

“There are so many different reasons why a kid chooses to go to a school,” he said. “The primary reason is supposed to be getting an education. If a kid wants to go to UL for whatever reason, he’s going to go there. The result of a game isn’t going to matter.”

UL's Desormeaux: 'This game means a lot'


Guilbeau was a classic example of an Acadiana-area player who wanted to play for the Cajuns, but was overlooked. Instead, he went to McNeese State and found a home there.

 Look at a list of all-time MSU record-holders and the local ties are everywhere. They range from Iota’s Buford Jordan to Teurlings Catholic’s Jeff Delhomme to Carencro’s Quinton Lawrence to St. Thomas More’s Britt Brodhead to Lafayette High’s Mark Barousse to Northside’s Jermaine Martin to Church Point’s Tony Citizen, just to name a few.

Thornton remembers going toe-to-toe with Lafayette native Douglas Dutt during the 1972 game.

“Faulkinberry told me that whatever I do, hit Dutt on every play,” Thornton said. “And apparently his coaches told him the same thing. We butted heads all night long. When the game was over, he just told me, ‘Good game, man’. Neither one of us had anything left.”

In fact, when McNeese State won that 2007 game, the winning quarterback was Erath High product Derrick Fourroux. Both schools recruited Fourroux, but the Cowboys did so as a quarterback and UL wanted him to play defensive back.

UL vs. McNeese State: The Particulars

“I remember how excited we were to be able to come to Lafayette to play that game,” Fourroux said. “Whether it UL or LSU, we were always excited to get the opportunity to play against them.”

Fourroux said he keeps in touch with former teammates and many will be attending Saturday’s game.

“We were a band of brothers,” he said.

Fourroux is now working as an emergency room registered nurse and lives in Erath.

“People around town are definitely excited about the game,” he said. “They’ll see me and say, ‘Is it going to be another butt-whipping again?’ I’m definitely ready for the game.

“I’m glad to see that McNeese is still doing well. It should be a lot of fun.”

Where to park?

Because a large crowd is expected  Saturday, the university has made arrangements for additional  fan parking. Fans who are planning on using general parking will need to park in one of the following areas:

  • Blackham Coliseum and adjacent grass lots
  • The old Our Lady of Lourdes parking towers and adjacent lots located on the corner of St. Landry and St. Julien
  • University parking lots including the Stokes/Girard parking tower
  • Downtown area parking lots

Shuttles will run from each parking location to Cajun Field starting at 9:30 a.m. Saturday. Fans will be dropped off at the corner of Cajundome Boulevard and Souvenir Gate and then picked up at the same location throughout the day and following the game to return to the parking areas.