Last Modified: Saturday, October 26, 2013 9:34 PM
THIBODAUX — If Saturday afternoon was a trap game, Southland Conference opponents are going to need something bigger to haul in McNeese State this season.
The fourth-ranked Cowboys eclipsed the half-century mark for the fourth time, cruising to a workmanlike 55-30 win over host Nicholls State.
“At this time of the year, you either win or you lose,” said McNeese head coach Matt Viator. “There are no moral victories. There’s no ‘Well, we improved here.’ You win or you lose. Our kids took care of business and we move on to next week.”
After going three-and-out on their first possession, the Cowboys didn’t punt again until after the final points had been scored by both teams.
“We just ran our base offense,” Viator said. “We just wanted to come out and execute what we do on offense. We didn’t try to scheme anything because they’re so multiple on defense. We just tried to do what we do.”
McNeese (7-1, 3-0 Southland) gained 512 yards of total offense, marking the fifth time this year that the Cowboys have surpassed 500. That number may have been even larger if McNeese hadn’t operated on so many short fields thanks to its return game.
The Cowboys started five drives on the Nicholls side of the 50, and didn’t even need to take the field when Khalil Thomas returned a Colonels kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown on the last play of the third quarter.
Thomas’ kickoff return wiped away Nicholls’ only remaining hope by giving McNeese a 48-23 lead.
Kelvin Bennett led the Cowboys with 169 yards on 13 carries, while Marcus Wiltz added 98 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 14 attempts. Dylan Long was again the vulture at the goal line, rumbling for two touchdowns on his four carries for 8 yards.
“It’s important for us to get (Bennett) going as the season goes on along with Marcus and Dylan,” Viator said. “And we still haven’t gotten Javaris (Murray) mixed in because there’s only so many carries. But we’re going to need them all if we are to continue moving forward.”
Bennett has had some of his best career efforts against the Colonels. The sophomore from Newton, Texas, had 94 yards on eight carries at Nicholls last season.
“There’s something about being on the road that gives you an extra push,” Bennett said.
McNeese led 27-10 going into the half and made sure Nicholls didn’t harbor illusions of comeback grandeur by taking the opening drive of the third quarter 44 yards in six plays with a 17-yard Wiltz touchdown run providing the finish.
“The speech in the locker room was ‘The score’s 0-0. We have to go back out there and start fast again,’” Wiltz said. “It was a great start for us.”
It took the Colonels (4-4, 1-2) two plays to respond to that score with a 21-yard Tuskani Figaro touchdown run, but it took McNeese only four plays to put things back out of reach with another Wiltz touchdown run.
Cody Stroud was an efficient 16 of 21 for 179 yards and a touchdown. He threw two passes in the second half.