(Jim Cenac / Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Monday, October 28, 2013 10:14 AM
THIBODAUX — Special teams were McNeese’s friend Saturday.
Magic in the return game, Jean Breaux’s six touchbacks and solid tackling in defending special teams were the difference in the Cowboys’ 55-30 win.
Field position was a factor early and often. McNeese’s first touchdown was set up by a 27-yard Diontae Spencer punt return to the Nicholls 10.
“We’ve been trying to push for that,” Cowboys head coach Matt Viator said. “The first touchdown was set up by punt return and we had the kickoff return for a touchdown.”
Spencer added a 46-yard kick return to open the second half to finish with 115 return yards, aiding the Cowboys in starting on Nicholls’ side of the field on five occasions.
“It was looking to put my team in a good position,” Spencer said. “Coach (Slade) Nagle likes to emphasize us winning the field position battle and I thought we did that today.”
When Nicholls was able to take a kickoff out toward the end of the first quarter, Carey Fortson was met unkindly at the Colonels’ 10-yard line by McNeese’s Corey Middleton.
But it was Khalil Thomas’ 94-yard return at the end of the third quarter was the biggest play for the unit. The freshman’s first career return touchdown was the first for McNeese since Bernardo Henry returned a kickoff 87 yards against Texas State in 2010.
The return touchdown put the game beyond doubt after a Nicholls flurry pulled the Colonels within three touchdowns.
“The last couple of weeks (Coach Viator) has been saying we need to get better on kick returns because that’s our weakest spot,” Thomas said. “We drilled the blocking schemes and got back to the fundamentals. We got some great field position and finally I got one.
“That feeling is so great, I can’t even describe it,” he added. “It being my first one (in college), I knew my boys weren’t going to let me down. I knew I had to make maybe two (tacklers) miss and I knew they were going to do the rest for me.”
For Viator, it’s been a long time coming.
“In our team meeting last night we had a long talk about doing something in the return game,” he said. “To start the game with a good punt return and with (Spencer) setting us up to start the second half and the kickoff return for touchdown.
“We’ve been close. We just needed to make something happen. Tonight we did.”