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Fourth-ranked McNeese hits road to face Nicholls

Last Modified: Friday, October 25, 2013 6:35 PM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

This summer, Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel allegedly took part in the college football version of “The Hangover” during his shortened stay in Thibodaux for the Manning passing camp.

Today, No. 4 McNeese State will try to do what the movie’s creators probably should have — avoid a sequel.

Coming off the high of back-to-back wins over ranked opponents Central Arkansas and Sam Houston State, the Cowboys (6-1, 2-0 Southland) will try to keep the momentum going at Nicholls State (4-3, 1-1).

“Traditionally, it’s a very tough place to play,” said McNeese head coach Matt Viator. “Our players understand how tough it is to win in this league on the road. We had a big crowd and great atmosphere this week, and then to go play a 3 o’clock game in Thibodaux is just a little bit different in the approach.”

The Cowboys say they are not looking past the Colonels, who have shown clear signs of improvement after losing every Division I game they played in 2011 and 2012.

“I expect it to be a dogfight,” said linebacker Hayden Dobbs. “Right now they have the same (league) record as Sam Houston, so take that into account. We’re not taking them lightly.”

Nicholls is 3-0 at home and has notched a win over Football Bowl Subdivision foe Western Michigan. Leading the way is dual-threat quarterback Tuskani Figaro, who ranks third in the Southland in rushing.

“Looking at their football team, they are considerably better than they have been,” Viator said. “This is coach (Charlie) Stubbs’ fourth year trying to recruit players in a pro-style transitioning from an option offense, and you can tell each year they continue to improve.”

While the Cowboys seem to respect their opponent’s talent, their biggest challenge could be getting themselves hyped up in a stadium that typically has the energy of a morgue — only with fewer bodies.

“It is one of the hardest places to play in the Southland because of the atmosphere,” said quarterback Cody Stroud. “We have to find a way to get ourself motivated, and I think we’ll do that, because the atmosphere isn’t going to do it for us.”

Running back Marcus Wiltz said the only thing that matters is between the lines.

“No matter how many people are there, we have to be go out there and play,” Wiltz said. “There could be zero people in the stands. We could play them in a field. We could play in one of the biggest stadiums ever, sold out. If you don’t play the game right, you give their fans momentum, and that’s something we don’t want to do.”

Regardless of the atmosphere, there is one thing that should keep McNeese hungry.

“We want to win the conference,” said cornerback Gabe Hamner. “No matter what the team is, that can keep us motivated.”

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