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Wednesday, October 22, 2014
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Gazzolo Column: The hunters have become the hunted

Last Modified: Thursday, October 24, 2013 9:28 AM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

It was sometime late in the fourth quarter last Saturday night when everything changed for McNeese State.

Time was running out and mighty Sam Houston State had yet to expose the Cowboys defense. And McNeese’s offense was still in rhythm, not turning the ball over and not making the big mistake.

The Cowboys looked every bit the better team.

Then, when victory could have squirted out of their hands in the closing seconds, the final gasp of desperation from the nation’s second-ranked team was covered up easily as David Bush fell on the onside kick.

Unlike last year, there was no panic on this special teams play. The ball was safely secured and a 31-23 win complete.

This was likely the biggest win in head coach Matt Viator’s era.

It was then, even before the water was poured on Viator’s head, that everything did change.

At 6-1 and having already knocked off the two favorites in the Southland Conference, the Cowboys went from being Wile E. Coyote to the Road Runner.

No longer the chaser, McNeese is now clearly the chased.

“We understand that,” said linebacker Hayden Dobbs, “but we are not going to change.”

The Cowboys claim they will still take things one game at a time, something Viator has preached to them each and every week.

“There is still a lot of football left,” said the coach, who knows the bar has been raised. “We have to treat every week like it is the biggest game of the year.”

That is easier said than done.

Fact is the Cowboys are coming off three high-profile games against three quality opponents. The atmosphere at each game has been electric.

This Saturday they travel to Nicholls State for a late-afternoon game, and the only electricity around will be if there is a thunderstorm in the sky.

It’s like going from color to black and white.

“We can’t have a letdown,” said safety Aaron Sam. “We know what is at stake.”

And there it is, for the first time this year, the Cowboys have something to lose.

Before last Saturday they were playing with house money. They had a championship to capture and a playoff spot to earn.

Now, they are the front-runners in the league. The championship is theirs to lose, the guaranteed playoff spot can only slip away. The target is on their backs.

I see the old Acme anvil coming right toward them.

In sports, perception is reality. Right now the perception is the now fourth-ranked Cowboys are the team to beat, not only in the SLC but also a possible national title contender.

They have nobody to blame for this but themselves. You can’t fly under the radar when are soaring over your league’s best.

Truth is they are the ones who reset the bar higher. And it is up to them just what kind of an ending this story will have.

The Road Runner knew this. He was always able to step out of harm’s way at the last second and have that coyote get himself in trouble.

Now the Cowboys must do the same. They are the ones who must avoid the rolling boulders and falling rocks that will be launched their way over the final five games.

The best way to do that is for them to learn from the Road Runner. You never saw him slow down, never look scared and never seemed to worried about the coyote. He just went about his business and ran his race.

Yes, it has all changed for McNeese, but the players can learn a lot from the Road Runner and never look back.

• • •

Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at jgazzolo@americanpress.com

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