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After a 10-2 regular season, the McNeese State Cowboys football team was rewarded Sunday with a No. 6 national seeding and first-round bye in the upcoming Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. The Cowboys will play the winner of the first-round matchup between Jacksonville State and Samford at 6 p.m. on Dec. 7 in Cowboy Stadium. (Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)

After a 10-2 regular season, the McNeese State Cowboys football team was rewarded Sunday with a No. 6 national seeding and first-round bye in the upcoming Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. The Cowboys will play the winner of the first-round matchup between Jacksonville State and Samford at 6 p.m. on Dec. 7 in Cowboy Stadium. (Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)

Gazzolo Column: Week off never felt so good for McNeese

Last Modified: Monday, November 25, 2013 10:36 AM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

Rarely has so little meant so much to so many.

Word of McNeese State’s week of nothingness was greeted with cheers and maybe even some sighs of relief from fans and players alike.

The Cowboys threw a party for their program and the release of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs Sunday to learn just what 10 wins got them.

What they found out is their regular season, one highlighted by a record offensive outburst, has earned them a bye, precious time off and their first trip to the second round of the playoffs since 2002.

Not a bad way to spend the first day of what will now become a holiday week.

“I am excited to be back in the playoffs, where we belong,” said head coach Matt Viator.

McNeese’s three-year playoff drought won’t officially end until a week from Saturday at Cowboys Stadium when the winner of the Samford-Jacksonville State game comes calling.

But the celebration began yesterday when the Cowboys found out they were the No. 6 seed in the upcoming postseason.

“We are happy where we are but we are not satisfied,” said quarterback Cody Stroud. “We are looking to accomplish more.”

Much more they hope.

The bye, the first in school history, means different things to different people.

For some, it is a much needed chance to heal up a season’s worth of bumps and bruises. For others, it is precious time off to spend with family on the holiday.

To most inside the Jack Doland Field House it means the Cowboys are back among the elite teams in their division, a return to the program’s glory days if you prefer.

“Great to put the program back where it needs to be,” said wide receiver Diontae Spencer.

The seniors who spoke all talked about about the bringing the Cowboys back to “McNeese standards.”

“We have had a few down years in McNeese standards,” said Stroud. “We took it upon ourselves to make a statement to guys around the nation that we are back.”

Clearly, the playoff committee heard.

This comes a year after many who gathered for the fun Sunday, and even more who follow McNeese football, wondered just where this program was headed.

More than a few even questioned who should be the one to lead it.

Viator has said all year it wasn’t about him.

“I’m just happy for the players, especially the seniors who have been through so much,” he said. “They are the ones who have worked so hard and earned this. I’m really proud of them.”

Yet there was a sense of redemption surrounding this team.

The players had heard the whispers, which seemed to get louder with each passing season that led to no playoff wins. They knew what was at stake.

“McNeese never went anywhere,” senior Chris Loveless had said earlier. “We just had a couple of seasons with some tough losses.”

Those seem to have toughened this group up.

This year when push came to shove, the Cowboys did most of the shoving.

“We have a bond,” said running back Marcus Wiltz. “All the ups and downs, tough losses, we as seniors talked about that and about becoming leaders.

“That brought us together.”

So it was only fitting that they gathered together to see what all their hard work had gotten them.

What they found out is it got them just what they wanted, nothing to do this weekend.

And they couldn’t be more excited.

• • •

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

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