Last Modified: Saturday, November 23, 2013 11:05 PM
BEAUMONT, Texas — After a gutsy play call went bad for McNeese State head coach Matt Viator, it was up to his players to bail out their coach against a rival fighting tooth-and-nail.
The Cowboys did so on both sides of the ball, and Diontae Spencer’s 16-yard end-around touchdown run with 58 seconds left lifted the Cowboys to a 42-38 win over Lamar on a blustery night at Provost Umphrey Stadium.
Spencer’s touchdown capped an 11-play, 89-yard drive that gave McNeese its first lead since midway through the second quarter.
“We came together and told ourselves as seniors that we had to make a play,” Spencer said of the huddle to open the final possession. “We came on the field and knew we were going to score. We said, ‘Believe in the person next to you and believe in yourself’ and put a great drive together.
“People say great teams find a way to win, and tonight we found a way.”
Deonte Thompson batted down a fourth-down pass on Lamar’s final possession to seal the win that could result in McNeese (10-2, 6-1 Southland) earning a first-round bye in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. The pairings will be announced at 10:30 a.m. today on ESPNU.
The Cowboys stepped up late after Viator passed on an opportunity to take the lead earlier in the fourth quarter. Trailing 38-36 with just over 9:30 remaining, Viator elected to go for the touchdown while facing a fourth-and-goal at the Lamar 1.
The Cardinals line held, putting the onus on McNeese to get the ball back and in position for another score.
“We hadn’t been stopped on our jumbo package all year,” Viator said. “If I had to do it 100 times, I’d do it again. I have confidence in our offensive line and Dylan hasn’t been stopped all year. Give Lamar credit.”
Lamar (5-7, 2-5) did get out of the shadow of its own end zone with a pair of first downs, but couldn’t keep the drive going long enough to move across midfield.
McNeese started the final drive on its own 11, then lost 2 yards on a failed reverse before Cody Stroud hit Marcus Wiltz out of the backfield for a crucial 13-yard gain.
Three plays later Stroud found a wide-open Nic Jacobs down the sideline for a 49-yard gain that moved McNeese into scoring range. But with the wind wildly swirling and a faulty snap already responsible for a failed extra point, the Cowboys weren’t thinking field goal.
“I wanted to score a touchdown,” Viator said. “But I at least wanted to make them use a timeout or two. We didn’t want to leave them that much time, but with the wind the way it is I don’t think we wanted to put it all on a field goal.”
The win marks the first time this year McNeese has won a game after trailing at halftime.
Lamar shredded its way to 322 yards and a 31-20 lead at the break as the Cowboys struggled to cope with three starting defensive backs leaving the game with injuries. Guy Morgan, Terence Cahee and Aaron Sam all missed the majority of the second quarter.
Sam eventually returned. Morgan appeared to hurt a knee and needed to be helped off the field. He was not in uniform and on crutches after the game.
That being the situation, defensive tackle Kevin Dorn said the rest of the unit had to step up.
“Without them, we knew we had to rush the passer even harder than we ever have,” Dorn said. “We just had to step it up. We made some second-half adjustments and had to change our mind-set, and I think we did.”
Lamar had 176 yards and a touchdown in the second half.
Kelvin Bennett was the offensive star for McNeese, rushing for 162 yards on 22 carries.
Lamar quarterback Caleb Berry was 21 of 41 for 330 yards and four touchdowns. Mark Roberts had five catches — three for touchdowns — to lead the Cardinals.