Last Modified: Saturday, October 05, 2013 8:59 PM
CONWAY, Ark. — The last time someone orchestrated an exorcism with this much style, they handed out Academy Awards.
No. 11 McNeese State beat back all the demons of its recently tortured past against Central Arkansas on Saturday afternoon, taking three straight seasons of frustration out on the No. 15 Bears in a 59-28 stomping.
The win returns the Red Beans and Rice Trophy to Lake Charles for the first time since 2009, and marks the Cowboys’ first win at Estes Stadium in four tries.
“That’s what pumped us up,” said senior running back Marcus Wiltz. “We came in with our three years of frustration and cut it loose on their field.”
McNeese’s last three losses to the Bears were all by less than a touchdown.
Cowboys head coach Matt Viator said McNeese won because it focused on the present instead of living in the past.
“I’ve never been real good on last week or last year,” Viator said. “This is about this group of guys. The last couple years, it’s not about me. It’s about this group of kids that has worked extremely hard to prove they are better than what we were last week (at Northern Iowa).”
The Cowboys offense dominated through the sky and on the ground to the tune of 595 yards. McNeese scored the most points by a UCA visitor since Arkansas Tech put up 67 in 1921.
Quarterback Cody Stroud was 13-of-19 for 277 yards and three touchdowns.
Wiltz rushed for a career-high 181 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries as well as 42 yards and another score receiving.
Despite surrendering 655 yards — 496 of which came in the first half — McNeese’s defense swung the momentum with a pair of first-half interceptions.
The Cowboys (5-1, 1-0 Southland) took a 21-14 lead on a school-record 98-yard interception return by senior Ryan Bronson in the second quarter. UCA quarterback Wynrick Smothers forced a throw towards his tight end while falling on his backside, and Bronson had it perfectly diagnosed for the pick-six.
“We worked on that play all week,” Bronson said. “If I see something like that, I knew I could take a chance on it.”
After UCA (2-3, 0-1) tied it back up at 21, the Cowboys closed out the first half with a 21-point flurry in the final 6:10.
Diontae Spencer had a hand in two of those scores, throwing a 46-yard touchdown to Jereon McGilvery on a trick play that made it 28-21.
“We ran it a couple times in practice, but I didn’t think we would use it in a game,” said Spencer, a high school quarterback. “I just had to catch it, secure the ball and make the throw.”
Spencer later caught a 40-yard pass from Stroud on the first play following defensive lineman Kevin Dorn’s interception of a Smothers pass off a tip by defensive end Chris Loveless. That play put the Cowboys up 42-21 and carried them into the locker room knowing this visit to Conway would end differently than the others.
“That was real big going into the half scoring,” Spencer said. “At halftime we focused on keeping the momentum going, and it paid off.”
McNeese intercepted the defending SLC Offensive Player of the Year three times. Smothers finished 35-of-65 for 484 yards and one touchdown.
The Cowboys go into what Viator called a much-needed bye week before hosting Football Championship Subdivision No. 2 Sam Houston State on Oct. 12.
“We need an open week, there’s no question. We have a tired football team,” Viator said. “For us, this will be biggest regular-season game in a long time at McNeese.”