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Falling behind early could be costly to McNeese or Jacksonville State

Last Modified: Friday, December 06, 2013 11:06 PM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

No. 6 McNeese State enters the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs tonight hoping an old foe can provide the cure for its postseason blues.

Jacksonville State (10-3), a Southland member from 1997-2002, returns to Cowboy Stadium for the first time in 11 years for a second-round game that kicks off at 6 p.m.

The Cowboys (10-2) are hoping something else happens for the first time in 11 years — a playoff win. McNeese has lost five straight in the postseason dating to the 2002 national championship game. The last four losses were by a combined total of 159-37.

“I think we’re all ready to make a statement,” said linebacker Hayden Dobbs, one of two Cowboys left from 2009’s 49-10 first-round loss to New Hampshire. “McNeese hasn’t won a playoff game in awhile, and it’s about time we get one.”

Having ended one streak of futility last week, the Gamecocks are going for another at the expense of McNeese.

JSU is coming off its first playoff win since 1992 courtesy of a 55-14 thrashing of Samford last week. Now the Gamecocks are trying to beat the Cowboys for the first time in eight tries.

“We all know historically that McNeese State is a name that you know in FCS football, and they have always been good and been in the playoffs,” said JSU coach Bill Clark. “They are a high seed and we know we have our work cutout for us by going on the road.”

The forecast of inclement weather — 40 degrees, strong winds and potential sprinkles of rain — doesn’t figure to favor one team over the other given their collective taste for running the football.

But it does mean that falling behind early could be more costly than usual for either side.

“If you look at their run game, it’s very similar to what we do,” said McNeese head coach Matt Viator. “They’re a zone-run team with play-action passes. But they are certainly a team you don’t want to get behind with the way they run the football.”

Ball protection will also be at a premium, but McNeese running back Marcus Wiltz said it can work to his advantage if Gamecock tacklers become more focused on stripping the ball from him than bringing him down.

“Me being an aggressive runner, if those guys are trying to strip, I just keep my legs turning and it just adds on more and more yards,” Wiltz said. “But in the back of my mind I also know I need to keep the ball tight and not try to do too much.”

JSU entered the playoffs with serious questions about its run defense — the Gamecocks allowed more than 400 yards on the ground in their final two regular-season games — but responded by holding Samford to 93 yards on 35 attempts.

They’ve been far more stingy against the pass, allowing one team to throw for more than 200 yards in the past five games.

McNeese has scored at least 40 points in all 10 of its wins this year, and was limited to one touchdown in both losses.

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