Last Modified: Monday, October 07, 2013 11:28 AM
How big was McNeese State’s first-ever win at Central Arkansas on Saturday?
You could tell just by gauging the reaction of the Cowboy players. Former Cowboy players, that is.
The biggest smile on the sideline near the end of Saturday’s game belonged to former defensive tackle Desmund Lighten, who hasn’t suited up for McNeese in two years.
Around the same time, a text message came from former offensive lineman Miguel Gauthreaux, who was eager to find out what was happening despite being out in the woods somewhere.
“I hope we put up 60.”
Earlier in the week, fellow former offensive lineman Carson Chaisson tweeted about how much he hated making the trip to UCA.
For all three and likely dozens of other ex-teammates, the message was clear: Finally, we beat these guys. There is no UCA jinx. And it’s time to get fired up about McNeese football.
Obviously, they aren’t the only ones who are excited.
“I don’t know how to put it into one word,” said senior safety Ryan Bronson, whose 98-yard interception return turned the tide. “All I know is it’s worth the reward to win the final one after losing three games to them earlier in my career.”
There are many layers that made Saturday’s win the most important for McNeese since beating Appalachian State in 2009, and possibly since the blowout of Louisiana-Lafayette in 2007. And yes, that includes the wins over FBS opponents that the Cowboys have opened each of the past two seasons with.
For one, Clint Conque and UCA have been McNeese’s personal bogeyman since joining the Southland. Since the Bears joined the league in 2007, McNeese has not won a conference title without beating UCA first.
While winning in Conway for the first time in four tries all-time is significant on those merits, it’s not the only important aspect of this victory.
McNeese was in serious need of a pick-me-up after a 41-6 whipping to Northern Iowa the previous week. Giving UCA the same treatment while UNI simultaneously took No. 1 North Dakota State to the limit before falling 24-23 in the Fargodome certainly provides that.
Saturday’s game was also a must-win with regards to what lies ahead.
With a loss, the Cowboys faced very little — if any — chance of knocking off No. 2 Sam Houston State when the Bearkats come to town in two weeks. An 0-1 start in conference play would have put the pressure on the Cowboys, which is asking a lot out of an underdog.
Now the Cowboys have their confidence back, as well as the ability to play loose. The house money sits on McNeese’s side of the table. A loss to the Bearkats is no big deal. Finish the season 10-2 with both losses coming to Top-5 teams and you’re sitting pretty come November.
Come in just looking to have fun in front of a packed house at Cowboy Stadium, and suddenly there’s a chance to do even more than that. Should that happen, the win over UCA will be the remembered as the game that vaulted McNeese back to where its fans and former players think it belongs.
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Alex Hickey covers McNeese State athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org