When football return to Southeastern Louisiana in 2003, retired head coach T.C. Calmes said it was the happiest day of his life.
"Many people have worked hard for many years to bring football back to this stadium," he added. "There are going to be a lot of happy people in these seats in 2003."
Former Kentucky head coach Hal Mumme and his "Air Raid" offense led the Lions to a 5-7 record in their first season following a 17-year hiatus. They also ranked first in NCAA Division I-AA total offense (537.1 yards per game) and passing offense (408 yards per game).
Even happier days were ahead in 2004. The Lions finished 7-5, including the sports moment judged the greatest in school history.
A stunning 51-17 victory at sixth-ranked McNeese State on Sept. 12, 2004, let everyone know that Lions football was back. Martin Hankins passed for 439 yards and finished the season with a school-record 4,240 yards and 35 touchdowns.
A year earlier, McNeese State routed Hankins and the Lions, 58-20. Quite a turnaround.
The school's website told the story:
LAKE CHARLES — The last time Southeastern recorded a win on the road, quarterback Martin Hankins was almost two months old.
Nearly 20 years later, the sophomore played a part in one of the Lions' biggest wins in school history.
Hankins, who celebrates his 20th birthday on Tuesday, completed 38 of 54 passes for 439 yards and five touchdowns and no interceptions. Felton Huggins caught 13 passes for 235 yards and a pair of touchdowns as Southeastern shocked No. 6 McNeese State, 51-17, Saturday night at Cowboy Stadium.
One week after dissecting Arkansas-Monticello for 588 yards and four touchdowns, Hankins riddled the Cowboys' defense tossing touchdown passes of 4 and 53 yards to Huggins that helped Southeastern (2-0) overcome a 14-9 deficit in the second quarter. Southeastern outscored McNeese State (1-1), 35-3, in the second half as Hankins hit Ray Perkins, Hutch Gonzales and Jeffery Howard for three of his four TDs in the second half.
Perkins rushed for 110 yards for Southeastern, which piled up 595 yards against the three-time defending Southland Conference champions, and earned its first win on the road since a 30-24 win at Southwest Missouri on Nov. 3, 1984.
While the Lions' offense was shredding the Cowboys secondary, the Lions' defense was creating havoc, forcing four turnovers and harassing McNeese State quarterback Scott Pendarvis all night long.
Charles Hall stuffed the Cowboys' first drive as he picked off a Pendarvis pass in the end zone after the Cowboys drove 64 yards in 10 plays. Duriel Adams and Ernest Wilkes each picked off passes from Pendarvis, who finished 19-for-36 passing for 213 yards and a touchdown.
Trailing 7-0 after Kris Bush scored on a 1-yard plunge, the Lions got on the board when Jim Hall kicked a 32-yard field goal that cut the lead to 7-3 with 8:42 remaining in the first half.
The Lions took their first lead of the game as Terry Robinson capped a 7-play, 63-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown with 3:34 left in the half. McNeese immediately drove down the field as Pendarvis hit Drew Blanchard with a 33-yard touchdown strike with 1:40 left.
Southeastern answered with a 75-yard drive as Hankins found Huggins all alone in the end zone for a 4-yard scoring pass with 15 seconds remaining giving the Lions a 16-14 lead at intermission.
McNeese threatened on its first drive of the second half as it drove to the Southeastern 21, but Adams forced Chris Thomas to fumble at the 17 and Birk McGee recovered to end the drive.
Five plays later, Hankins found Huggins in one-on-one coverage as McNeese State brought a blitz, and Huggins shaked off a tackle and raced 53 yards to the end zone to give the Lions a 23-14 lead.
McNeese State closed to 23-17 on Travis Pickering's 35-yard field goal, but the Lions scored two touchdowns in the final 3:10 of the third quarter as Hankins hit Perkins and Gonzales with touchdowns to put Southeastern ahead 37-17.
The Lions added a pair of touchdowns in the fourth as Howard caught a 2-yard pass from Hankins and Choni Francis scored on a 14-yard run in the final minute.
• Southeastern Louisiana Athletics Hall of Fame
THIS WEEK’S GREATEST MOMENTS
• Monday: Saint Louis and Samford
• Tuesday: Sam Houston State and Seattle
• Wednesday: South Florida and Southeast Missouri State
• Thursday: Southeastern Louisiana and SIU Edwardsville
• Friday: SMU and Southern Mississippi