It wasn’t a blowout. It was a washout.
LSU’s season opener against McNeese State was canceled as severe thunderstorms rolled through Baton Rouge just after kickoff Saturday night. 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 real-time 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 warmup 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 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.”
The teams don’t have a common open date, preventing a rescheduled date for later in the year. Alleva said he will address refund options in the future for those who bought tickets Saturday.
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 tuneup 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 10:08 left in the first quarter. The teams exchanged punts and got off 10 plays run before the delay began.
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 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.
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, starting his first game at home after winning the job over Anthony Jennings, 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 game 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 canceled. The Gators played an 11-game regular season.
McNeese will keep the $500,000 LSU paid it for the game.
“We wanted to play, as did LSU. I think the way it was handled by LSU was exactly correct,” McNeese State coach Matt Viator said.
The delay spanned nearly four hours before the game was called. Players spent much of the time “stretching and relaxing,” Miles said. They also ate fruits, sandwiches and other snacks. Harris’ second career start will now come at Mississippi State — an opponent in which he nearly led LSU to a wild comeback against last season.
His only other start came on the road as well — at Auburn in a 41-7 loss last year.
“All part of God’s plan,” Harris tweeted after the game. “He knows why. Therefore, no questions ask.”
Harris raced out of the tunnel during warmups to a rocking student section chanting his name.
“This was his first (home) start,” Miles said of Harris. “He would have loved to have had it. I would have loved for him to have had it.”
LSU will play more 11-on-11 scrimmage-like situations in practice next week given the cancellation, Miles said. The Tigers will not change their weekly practice schedule, but because of the holiday Monday, Miles will have his weekly news luncheon Tuesday.
They’ll even, still, watch game film of Saturday’s 11-minute, 10-play affair.
“Just not a lot to watch,” Miles said. “It won’t take long.”
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Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.