Last Modified: Monday, October 28, 2013 6:44 PM
You know it’s a good season when the biggest game at your stadium in a decade becomes the second-biggest game at your stadium in the last two weeks.
It doesn’t have quite the same cachet as the Top 10 battle with Sam Houston State, but Saturday’s game against No. 25 Southeastern Louisiana (6-2, 3-0 Southland) will carry similar weight for No. 4 McNeese State (7-1, 3-0).
The two teams are the only unbeatens remaining in the Southland Conference.
“It’s a great opportunity to be able to play at Cowboy Stadium as one of the two remaining teams that are undefeated,” said McNeese coach Matt Viator. “We’re looking forward to it.”
On paper, this game appears to be the last high hurdle on McNeese’s regular-season schedule.
Stephen F. Austin is dangerous — the Lumberjacks have beaten No. 5 Montana State — but erratic. SFA also has a home loss against Prairie View. The other two remaining opponents, Northwestern State and Lamar, are looking for their first conference wins.
If McNeese treats those teams as it did Nicholls State in last Saturday’s 55-30 win, they will not be overlooked.
“Everywhere in the landscape of college football, people go in somewhere on the road where they’re supposed to win and they get upset,” Viator said. “We took care of business and did what we’re supposed to do.”
Whether they are favored to win by three points or three touchdowns, the formula used by the Cowboys against the Colonels should be repeated if possible.
McNeese didn’t turn the ball over, improving the Cowboys turnover margin to a league-best plus-6. They also didn’t draw a penalty for the first three quarters, though that mental sharpness regressed a bit in the fourth when the Cowboys drew three 15-yard flags on one drive.
“We got some silly ones at the end of the game, which I wasn’t really excited about,” Viator said.
Viator was most pleased with the fact it was a true “three phase” victory.
On special teams, Diontae Spencer brought a pair of returns back to the Nicholls side of the 50 yard-line and Khalil Thomas added McNeese’s first kickoff return touchdown in four seasons.
Offensively, the Cowboys topped 500 yards for the fifth time this year and eclipsed 50 points for a school-record fourth time in one season.
The defense allowed some big gains against a Nicholls offense built around the run, but left the Colonels no realistic shot of rallying through the passing game. Quarterbacks Kalen Henderson and Tuskani Figaro were a combined 11 for 32 with an interception.
Winning the game in all three phases will be more of a challenge against the Lions, who have also been capable in all areas in their best start to a season since 1981.
“I’m impressed with what they are doing. They are really talented across the board,” Viator said. “It starts at quarterback with (Bryan) Bennett, the transfer from Oregon. He’s a true dual-threat guy. Defensively, the thing that concerns us is their size. Their outside linebackers are 240, 250 (pounds). The other concern is they are 1 or 2 in the league in just about every special teams category.”