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McNeese State's Ernest Celestie runs after a catch against Northwestern State last season. (American Press Archives)

McNeese State's Ernest Celestie runs after a catch against Northwestern State last season. (American Press Archives)

Cowboys host Demons Saturday night in Southland Conference home opener

Last Modified: Friday, September 28, 2012 8:49 PM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

Northwestern State comes to town tonight looking for its first win in Lake Charles since George Bush was elected president.

The other George Bush.

The Hole has swallowed the Demons (2-2) every time they’ve visited after 1988. Their last trip, in 2009, was one of the very worst — a 51-23 wipeout.

“We all know how tough it is to win at McNeese,” said Northwestern State coach Bradley Dale Peveto. “It’s one of the great venues in all of college football.”

McNeese has owned Northwestern’s number everywhere they’ve played since 2004, though most of the games have been close. Only two of the games during the Cowboys’ seven-game series winning streak have been decided by more than a touchdown.

“This is a great rivalry,” said McNeese coach Matt Viator. “We always seem to have good games.”

McNeese (3-1, 0-1 Southland) is looking to get its season back on the right track after seeing another long winning streak against a rival snapped by Southeastern Louisiana last week.

The Lions shut out the Cowboys in the second half for a 25-24 win, their first against McNeese since 2005. McNeese only gained 79 yards on 20 plays after halftime.

“It’s probably the biggest week of the year right now,” said McNeese quarterback Cody Stroud. “We suffered a bad loss that was totally, in our opinion, something we could have controlled and we didn’t. It’s a big-time motivator for our team to bounce back from a loss like that.”

The Cowboys have to put the stunning loss behind them if a conference title is to be attained this season.

“You have to regroup, there’s no question,” Viator said. “It’s disappointing. It’s a game you certainly thought you should have won. But it’s another week and the conference season is long. The playoffs have been expanded. You have to keep trying each week to get better.”

McNeese’s secondary limps into the game after multiple injuries in the last two weeks. Star free safety Malcolm Bronson is done for the year. Fellow senior safety Ford Smesny is questionable, as is starting cornerback Guy Morgan.

Ryan Bronson, now a starter, is playing with a cast over his hand. Wallace Scott, his backup, is also out after getting hurt last week.

Natchitoches native Steele Merritt, a true freshman defensive back, has been activated by Viator for the game.

Offensively, the Cowboys figure to get wide receiver Darius Carey more involved.

McNeese’s most explosive player was barely seen in the loss at SLU, catching one pass for four yards and rushing twice for 10 yards. The Cowboys’ leading receiver from last year is currently third on the team with seven grabs, though he is averaging a team-high 19.9 yards per reception.

“(Getting him more touches) would certainly help,” Viator said. “He got some touches against Middle Tennessee we liked and Weber he had some. Last week we had several things we thought we could have done but we never sustained anything to do it.”

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