Texas State Bobcats vs. Louisiana Monroe Warhawks, 10/20/18, 6PM
Final Score: Warhawks 20 – Bobcats 14, Attendance: 13,235
Weather: Partly Cloudy, 65; Ticket: $15 Gate, Parking: $10
Monroe is almost Funroe by Tree
The Warhawks play at Malone Stadium, which has an odd design that seats about 30,000. The home side is a large, concrete edifice with a funky art deco front. The inside, however, is reminiscent of some Eastern European stadium, straight out of the cold war. The visitor’s side is comprised of two layers of standard aluminum bleachers. The stadiums are semi connected with an open space on the South end zone and a brand new, but fairly small field end zone on the North side. The collection of varying architectures gives the stadium an odd, almost disconnected, feel. We came to the stadium late, having stayed to the very end of the UTEP vs La Tech game. As a result, we missed all the pregame festivities including the tailgating in the Grove. We parked the car for $10 in a lot relatively close to the stadium. This was after we passed a couple empty parking spots at the entrance of campus.
We approached the ticket booth at the visitors’ side and purchased general admission seats for $10. Unfortunately, they were having technical difficulties and we had to wait about 10 minutes for tickets to be printed. At first I thought we were going to the club based on the attire of the folks we passed and then I realized we were sitting in the student section. The kids had been partying most of the day and they just wanted to keep going. It was homecoming after all, but I was bit too old and too tired to sit amongst that revelry. We made a quick u-turn and decided to make our way towards the Eastern Bloc of the stands. When we came around the corner, we discovered the area was closed off and the gate was protected by security. It looked like this area was for a specific set of ticket holders. The attendant did not seem to care and he happily opened the gate and we walked right in. As we walked through we saw various tents with food and beer, some of it catered and some looking like it was brought in. There were folks sitting in lawn chairs overlooking the end zone and kids running all around. As we got to the other end, we saw it was fenced off. The only access to the other side of the stadium was some small steps guarded by another security guard, so that folks would not have access to the field. It also provided a way to the stands. The security guard there stood firm and would not let us through.
At this point, I decided to ask one of the fans in the end zone what exactly was the deal with this set up. He politely explained, after giving my son and I a beer, that the stadium was the Monroe Letterman’s club. It was pretty much a free flowing tailgate with the added bonus of watching the game. He clued us into some of the challenges of the program. They don’t have a lot of money and it is hard to compete in recruiting locals with the SEC beating the bushes every year. The only thing he could not tell us was how to get to the other side (other than walking completely around the stadium). He did have a buddy who he thought could help us out. As we walked to the fence, we saw a woman go through a nearly invisible gate close to the stadium. To our surprise, it was not locked and we walked through to the massive concrete edifice side of the home stands. We passed some very weak concession stands that sold very standard fare. It was so standard that they only sold soda in bottles. I had to buy a souvenir cup in a stand up book store within the stadium. Despite having general admission tickets, we were able to walk into the center section and pick out our seats. They were nice, with seat backs and slightly under cover in case it was to rain. The views were excellent. There was only one video scoreboard and it was broken. They could not run any replays. It was only able to show stats and promos. It was sad, like the TV had broken and they did not have the money to fix it.
The fans were around us were friendly and fairly vocal. It was not a consistent level of noise, but the boos and cheers were appropriately aligned with the action on the field. There were not any specific cheers other than the standard “Another Warhawk first down.” They do have hand gestures where the fingers are semi clenched into talons to match the slogan of “Defend the Nest – Talons Out.” It turns out to be a modified tomahawk chop, which is homage to their previous nickname as the Indians. Alas, mascot Chief Brave Spirit met his demise at hands of political correctness. It was not exactly the most flattering portrayal of Native Americans so it probably was not the worst tradition to fall to the wayside. Their replacement is “Ace the Warhawk.” He’s the typical bird mascot with the added details of a bomber jacket and goggles. Somehow, he left his white silk scarf at home.
Obviously Malone Stadium resides in Monroe, Louisiana. It is in northern Louisiana not near much else. There is a small regional airport, but we drove in from Houston. I have made the drive many times and it is a mix of mind numbing freeways followed by quirky state routes. None of it is particularly noteworthy. We pulled into campus late and missed on opportunity to park for free there. Instead we continued to some pay ($10) lots next the stadium. Despite arriving late, the activity in Grove was still going at full steam. It was homecoming and the various fraternities and sororities had tents with dance floors and DJs. The students had the attire to match.
Being so close to Ruston, the natural rivals for Monroe are the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. Alas, the teams are in different conferences so they do not play each other much anymore. Accordingly, in state and Sun Belt rival Lafayette is their biggest rival.
The Warhawks had to be happy to see the 1 – 5 Bobcats come in for homecoming. Unfortunately, Texas State did not know they were supposed to fodder for La. Monroe. The Bobcats scored first after the Warhawks coughed up the ball on their own 23 yard line. The response from La. Monroe was swift in the form of a five play drive highlighted by a 60 yard run. The Warhawks added another 10 points in the second quarter and were seemingly on their way to strong if not massive win. ULM kicked a field goal in the third quarter, but things were getting shaky. Texas State was hanging around and that could only be bad for the Warhawks. Indeed, a ULM fumble in the 4th quarter near the 50 yard line was converted to a touchdown by Texas State and it was suddenly a one score game with plenty of time on the clock. Texas State had one more run in them, getting all the way to the ULM 25 before penalties and the ULM defense combined to stop the Bobcats with about three minutes left to play. The Warhawk’s offense then took the ball over at their four yard line with 3:39 to play. Impressively, they managed to close out the game with a strong final drive. In reality, the Warhawks outplayed Texas State in all facets, but some sloppy ball handling let the Bobcats hang around. I cannot complain as it made the game more entertaining. The Warhawk program is not exactly a successful one, with a winning percentage below 500. The program has been around since 1931 having moved to the FBS in 1994. There have been a few upsets of SEC team since then, but only one bowl game appearance, which they lost.
I am tempted to give Louisiana Monroe an incomplete because we did not get to enjoy the Grove. My experience with the Louisiana citizenry has always been good – friendly folks who can turn anything into a party. Our limited time in Monroe would support that. The program is in a bit of transition as they move their traditions away from the Indians moniker and more to an affiliation with the military, tying into a correlation with the Louisiana State trained commander of the highly successful Curtis P-40 Warhawks, Major General Claire Lee Chennault. It is a connection only a marketing firm could dream up, but with time it could become one that works well with the program.
On the more tactical side, the actual game day experience could be greatly improved. The stadium is old, with terrible logistics and concessions. The scoreboard was barely functional. ULM did win a national championship as an FCS team and that might be a better fit for the program. The other negative is the general location; I can’t imagine a reason for being in that area of the country other than maybe a hunting weekend. Maybe that’s the hook. If you somehow got waylaid in Monroe and wanted to see a Sun Belt conference game, you could wander over to Malone Stadium. The fans in the Grove will likely invite you in and a ticket would not be hard to come by. Otherwise, I would say leave your encounters with Warhawks to the occasional game on ESPN3.