Update, 11:24 p.m.: It wasn’t a blowout. It was a washout.
LSU’s season opener against McNeese State was canceled as severe thunderstorm rolled through Baton Rouge just after kickoff. The game will not be made up.
It’s believed to be LSU’s first cancellation of a game since 1918, when World War I wiped out the season. The Tigers will now play no more than 11 games in this regular season.
The Tigers and Cowboys each played one offensive series before a lightning strike at 6:50 p.m. – 11 minutes into the game. Lighting continued off and on until the school announced the cancellation at 10:36 p.m. With each lightning strike, the delay was pushed back 30 more minutes.
The teams had until midnight to restart the game, but athletic director Joe Alleva said that wasn’t possible because of persistent lightning and the need for a 30-minute warm-up time for both teams.
“It boiled down to player safety. At the end of the day, we have to be concerned about the players’ welfare,” Alleva said in a news conference at about 10:50 p.m.
Playing on Sunday was not an option, he said. McNeese bused over on Saturday and did not plan to stay in Baton Rouge after the game.
“McNeese had to go home. They didn’t have a hotel,” Alleva said. “They would have had to go home and come back. It would have been logistically very difficult.”
For coach Les Miles and his Tigers, it’s a missed opportunity. The game against the Cowboys, of the Football Championship Subdivision, was seen as a tune-up for a critical early-season stretch upcoming for the Tigers.
LSU travels to play Mississippi State next week before hosting Auburn the week after.
“We would have liked to prepare best for Mississippi State, having our first game under our belt before we played them,” Miles said. “That’s why we waited as long as we could. The idea that we wait until just before midnight to see if we could possibly get on the field and play until 3 o’clock in the morning was not in the best interest of our players. We felt like the health risk there overrode the necessity of playing the game.”
The first lightning strike came with 10 minutes, 8 seconds left in the first quarter. The teams exchanged punts, and there were 10 plays run before the delay.
During the first 30 minutes of the delay, the stadium remained mostly full. A deluge then hit the stadium – rain, wind and lightning – clearing much of the venue. About one-third of the student section, however, remained in the stands during the delay, singing and dancing to music played over the stadium’s speakers.
One student, even, raced out onto the playing surface, where several police officers detained him to boos from the crowd.
LSU got off to a sluggish start on offense, but forced a three-and-out from McNeese before the first of many lightning strikes sent players racing into the locker room.
LSU’s first offensive series included a bevy of freshmen. Receiver Tyron Johnson, Donte Jackson and running backs Derrius Guice and Nick Brossette all saw the field. Jackson took an end-around for 4 yards. Quarterback Brandon Harris misfired on what could have been a long touchdown pass to Malachi Dupre. Harris’ pass was underthrown and came on third down, forcing a punt.
The Tigers ran five plays for 11 yards on their first series. The stats from the first two series will not count because the game was not completed.
A game cancellation is a rarity, but it did happen to an SEC team last season. Florida had its game against Idaho cancelled. The Gators played an 11-game regular season.