Last Modified: Sunday, November 24, 2013 6:12 PM
Using the quick eyes of a defensive back, Terence Cahee was the first to notice “No. 6 McNeese State” flash on the projection television screen, even though it was only perceptible for a millisecond.
A moment later, the rest of the McNeese players and fans gathered in Jack Doland Fieldhouse finally saw the same thing — the Cowboys (10-2) had officially earned a first-round bye in their first trip to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs since 2009.
Even the worst set of ears would have heard the whoops and cheers that followed.
“To be back in the playoffs, where this program belongs, is certainly very exciting,” said McNeese coach Matt Viator. “We’re looking forward to it.”
McNeese will face the winner of next week’s game between Jacksonville State and Samford at 6 p.m. on Dec. 7 in Cowboy Stadium.
“Getting a No. 6 seed is a great accomplishment for our players,” Viator said. “Obviously the playoffs brings a new set of challenges ... But I’m excited going in because I think we can make plays in all three phases. To win in the playoffs, you’ll have to make a play in all three phases at some time. And I think we have the ability to do it.”
The bye represents a much-needed physical and mental break for the Cowboys after playing 12 games in 13 weeks.
Instead of hitting the practice field on Thursday afternoon, now players will be able to go home for Thanksgiving dinner.
“To be able to get away and have a different mindset from football is going to be very, very good for all of us,” said running back Marcus Wiltz. “(My first thought was) ‘McNeese No. 6, mom’s turkey, and I’m going home to eat it.”
For players who have dealt with nagging injuries like wide receiver Ernest Celestie, the chance to rejuvenate is all the more valuable.
“Every day off is a chance to heal and get better,” Celestie said. “Having two weeks to prepare for this game is going to do wonders.”
The last time McNeese reached the playoffs, it was a 16-team field. There are 24 entrants this season, so this marks the first time the Cowboys will have an extra week to prepare for their opponent.
In the last two seasons, the top four playoff seeds received byes. The teams with the extra week of rest went 8-0 in those games.
Whether its the Gamecocks or Bulldogs coming to town, the Cowboys will be looking to win their first playoff game since reaching the national championship game in 2002.
Without prompting, Viator made it clear that the current crop of Cowboys had nothing to do with his three first-round exits as head coach.
“These guys did not go 0-3 in the playoffs,” Viator said. “They had nothing to do with it. So let’s focus on what we’re doing and what these guys are doing. I read in the paper McNeese hasn’t won a playoff game since 2002. These guys were in elementary school. Let’s move forward and celebrate what these guys did and what we think these guys can do.”
With a second-round win, the Cowboys would travel to No. 3 Eastern Washington or play host to either Northern Arizona or South Dakota State in the quarterfinals. Three wins would put McNeese in the national championship game, which will be held on Jan. 4, in Frisco, Texas.
“We feel capable of beating any team in the country,” said quarterback Cody Stroud. “We’re happy where we’re at. But it’s not where we want to be in the end. We still have a goal to accomplish.”
Posted By: Josh On: 11/25/2013
Title: Its Common Sense
What sense does it make to seed teams 1-8, with the quarterfinals being the potential match up of the top 8, and then send the 3 seed to play the 6 seed? This isn't high school ball. The higher seed gets the home game. That's how it has always worked. That's why McNeese sat home in 2002 when they last made it to the second round and the championship.
Posted By: Mike Fuljenz On: 11/24/2013
Title: Eastern Washington away game
I understand the home or away determination is not based on seeding in the third round . Have you confirmed that the cowboys will have to go to Eastern Washington if that matchup occurs?