SAN ANTONIO – Every coach, every program needs a signature victory. UIW coach Eric Morris and the Cardinals got theirs on Saturday night.

UIW revved up its high-octane, up-tempo offense early and never relented, rolling to a 45-17 win over the nationally ranked Cowboys in a Southland Conference game at Benson Stadium.

Quarterback Jon Copeland threw three touchdown passes, including a pair to Phillip Baptiste, and ran for another score. He finished 24-of-41 passing for 236 yards with an interception.

The victory is the first for the Cardinals against a nationally ranked opponent since UIW kicked off its first season in 2009. It's also UIW's first win in five meetings with McNeese.

The Cardinals, who bounced back from a heartbreaking 27-21 road loss to Lamar last week, led McNeese 14-3 after one quarter and 28-3 at the half. UIW was ahead 38-10 heading into the fourth quarter.

“It feels good to get a bad taste out of our mouths that stung about a week [after] losing a game like we did last week to a good Lamar team" Morris said. "I’m proud of the resiliency of this team and their continuing to fight for one another. They believe in one another. They love each other. And it's just fun to see and celebrate a win like that."

Lamar returned a blocked field-goal attempt for a touchdown in the final seconds to beat UIW last week.

The McNeese offense found the going tough against UIW's fast-improving defense, finishing with only 222 yards of total offense and committing four turnovers.

"Our defense played lights out pretty much the whole game," Morris said. "I'm proud of those guys and the way that they stepped up and continue to get better each and every week."

Morris was offensive coordinator at Texas Tech for five seasons before landing his first head-coaching job at UIW in late December last year.

The Cardinals improved to 4-3 overall and 4-1 in the SLC, moving into a three-way tie for first with McNeese and Central Arkansas. UIW plays at Central Arkansas on Nov. 10.

McNeese State (5-2, 4-1) was No. 6 in this week’s Football Championship Subdivision poll. The Cardinals’ victory avenged a 55-7 loss to the Cowboys last year. McNeese set an NCAA record in the win, scoring four TDs on interception returns.

Morris talked about the significance of the victory and its impact on the program moving forward.

"We knew this was a team that led our conference, and it's been our goal to take things slow here and win one game a week," he said. "I haven't taken a holistic approach to this team because we had to fix so many little things when I got here. So we're really paying attention to detail, taking it day-by-day, game-by-game.

"I really thought that's what we needed moving forward as a program. They continue to buy in and do it, and anytime you can knock off the No. 6 program in the nation in that fashion on a win like that is something I'll remember for a long time. "

The Cardinals play at Nicholls State in Thibodaux, La., next week. Kickoff is at 3 p.m.