(Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 02, 2013 10:16 AM
It’s October, which means it’s the prime time for visiting haunted houses.
For McNeese State, no place has more ghosts than Central Arkansas’ Estes Stadium.
It’s the only Southland Conference venue where the Cowboys are winless, going 0-3 dating to the first meeting in 2008.
Cowboys head coach Matt Viator said there are a number of factors that make the trip so difficult.
“It’s a really quality program. They do what they do very well,” Viator said. “And they have a good home-field environment up there. And certainly it’s not the easiest trip to make. Every sport here does, and I’m sure no one looks forward to it.”
It’s not just that McNeese has lost every time it has gone to Conway. The way the losses have unfolded create the impression there’s some cloud of hoodoo floating over the yellow helmets on the field.
It all started with McNeese’s first visit in ’08.
The Cowboys were poised to take a 21-20 lead early in the third quarter when speedy wide receiver Steven Whitehead was stripped at the UCA 1-yard line. The ball bounded out of the end zone for a touchback. The Bears scored on the ensuing possession and went on to a 47-30 win.
It was an even bigger nightmare in 2010.
McNeese fell behind 21-0 in the first quarter before scoring 24 straight points to go up midway through the fourth.
The Bears responded with a touchdown to retake the lead with just over 3 minutes left.
In the final minute, McNeese faced first-and-goal from the UCA 4. Quarterback Jacob Bower couldn’t connect on any of the four cracks at the win, and the season ended with the 28-24 loss.
The Cowboys had to return to Conway in 2011, the first season the Bears installed their striped purple-and-gray turf scheme.
Despite outgaining the Bears by nearly 200 yards, McNeese lost 21-18 thanks to five turnovers and a missed 25-yard field goal attempt.
The most painful of the turnovers was a Marcus Wiltz fumble forced by a UCA helmet at the Bears’ 3, then bounced perfectly into the hands of Bears defender Frank Newsome, who returned it 98 yards for a touchdown.
And that’s just the games in Conway. Last season’s improbable UCA comeback win in Cowboy Stadium is a Stephen King story in and of itself.
Coaches tend to avoid attributing anything to luck, but players know what they have seen can seem to defy logic.
“It’s a crazy game,” said Cowboys senior safety Terence Cahee. “Sometimes the ball just bounces one way, and luckily for them it’s been on their side the past three years. A couple turnovers where they scored, a couple drives we couldn’t finish, a couple drives we couldn’t stop them. Luck was on their side that day. But I think we have a chance to make something special happen this Saturday in Conway.”
Cahee said he thinks the Cowboys are putting in the work this week to avoid having luck enter the equation.
“We’re taking this a lot more seriously than in the past,” he said. “From a coaching standpoint to a player’s standpoint, everybody’s preparing for this game.”
Even if both teams are soundly prepared and evenly matched for this week’s game, it would be hard for anyone superstitious to ignore one particular number.
The Bears are 12-0 since installing “The Stripes” at Estes Stadium — making Saturday Game No. 13.