McNeese State wide receiver/kick returner Diontae Spencer runs against Stephen F. Austin Saturday afternoon in Nacogdoches, Texas. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 03, 2013 9:06 PM
During the regular season, it’s possible for players to say, “We just have to treat this like any other game,” regardless of whether an opponent is better, worse or practically the same.
For most players on the McNeese State roster, Saturday’s Football Championship Subdivision playoff game against Jacksonville State (10-3) is unlike any they’ve ever played. Only fifth-year seniors Hayden Dobbs and Javaris Murray were on the active roster the last time the Cowboys (10-2) were in the playoffs in 2009.
Those new to the playoff experience must balance the fine line between being sharp enough to cut down on small mistakes that opposing playoff teams are able to take advantage of and being so on edge that a disjointed effort follows.
“You have to approach it mentally different than you would any other game,” said senior safety Terence Cahee. “Little mistakes are going to beat you in the playoffs. Every team is good, and every team you play each week is better and better.”
Cahee said he thinks postseason success will be a matter of mind over emotion.
“You don’t have be all jacked-up and rah-rah to have a good game,” he said. “But if you’re mentally prepared and execute, I think you’ll be OK.”
Running back Marcus Wiltz said focusing on the small things is important in a week like this.
“All week we’ll probably practice blocking assignments, keeping ball security high and tight,” Wiltz said. “The little things that can easily give the momentum to them as the game goes on.”
While the Cowboys are dedicating themselves to a meticulous week of preparation, the seniors have to dig bit a back further in the recesses of their memories to be in the proper mind-set come game time.
“I kind of look back at high school days in the playoffs,” said quarterback Cody Stroud. “It’s similar to that. It’s win or go home.”
That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
McNeese has lost five consecutive playoff games dating to the 2002 national championship game. The four first-round exits since then have all been blowouts and a source of understandable angst for McNeese fans.
But none of that negativity surrounds the current crop of players, which may end up turning McNeese’s three-year playoff exile as a blessing in disguise.
“If we were a part of those teams, there would be a lot more pressure. But since we weren’t really here, I don’t feel any pressure from those previous teams,” Stroud said. “Say in the past two or three years we had made the playoffs and hadn’t gotten out of the first round, I think it’d be more pressure. But with the situation we’re in, I don’t see any pressure.”
And for the guy who was there to feel the sting of 2009’s 49-13 loss to New Hampshire, the motivational fuel is plentiful.
“New Hampshire left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth,” Dobbs said. “We’re ready to make a statement. McNeese hasn’t had a playoff win in a few years now, and it’s about time we get one.”