McNeese head coach Matt Viator and quarterback Cody Stroud. (American Press Archives)
Last Modified: Friday, October 04, 2013 6:10 PMIt might be overstating things to say McNeese State’s whole season hinges on today, but it might not be too far off either.
The No. 11 Cowboys (4-1) visit No. 15 Central Arkansas (2-2) in a crucial conference-opening tilt that will be televised at 3 p.m. on Southland TV.
From both a practical and psychological standpoint, McNeese wants to avoid facing an uphill climb in the conference standings with a full schedule left to play.
“You never want to go 0-1 in conference,” said Cowboys head coach Matt Viator. “We did that one year when we won it (2009), but after that the margin gets more narrow and more narrow. And you certainly don’t want to lose before your open week. That makes it a lot longer.”
In order to avoid falling into that hole, McNeese must do something it has not in the last three years — beat UCA.
The Bears have had McNeese’s number in a trio of nail-biting games that were all decided by less than a touchdown.
“Any one play can change that outcome,” said UCA coach Clint Conque. “Four years ago we ran a gadget play and dropped a pass and lost (21-17). The last three years we’ve been able to make that play. We always talk about the significance of every play in every football game. We’ve been fortunate to make that play.”
None was more painful than last season, when UCA scored 10 points in the final 1:10.
The Bears’ win was a culmination of several improbable plays — quarterback Wynrick Smothers scrambling for a first down on fourth-and-10, Dezmin Lewis grabbing a touchdown catch between a pair of defensive backs, an onside kick that bounced 29 yards, and then a career-long 47-yard field goal by kicker Eddie Camara.
“It had to be one of (the worst moments of) my career,” said senior safety Ryan Bronson. “It put our burden on our whole team.”
The Cowboys are also seeking to become the first road team to ever win on UCA’s purple-and-gray “Stripes” playing surface. The Bears are 12-0 at home since installing the psychedelic surface in 2011.
“It’s time for them to get a loss there, is what I think,” said quarterback Cody Stroud. “Two out of the three years that I’ve been playing it was up there and we should have won both times. They always find a way to win up there, but we’ve got to stop that.”
Estes Stadium is the only site in the SLC where McNeese is winless. The Cowboys are 0-3 there since first visiting in 2008.
McNeese is also trying to snap a five-game losing streak against teams in the Football Championship Subdivision Top 25 that continued with last week’s 41-6 loss at No. 5 Northern Iowa.