Hickey: McNeese’s playoff failure comes down to inches

By By Alex Hickey / American Press

SAN ANTONIO — The record will show that McNeese State’s playoff hopes ended with a 31-24 loss at Texas-San Antonio on Saturday.

The record is wrong.

Just as no one running in Sunday’s San

Antonio marathon would blame their final mile for not hitting whatever

timed goal they

set, the Cowboys can’t be labeled as chokers for failing to come

through against the Roadrunners. The reality is they never

should have been in a must-win game against a Bowl Subdivision

team in the first place.

To a man, the Cowboys know it was earlier 1-point losses to Southeastern Louisiana and Central Arkansas that cost them a goal

they were clearly capable of achieving.

“I play those games back in my mind over and over,” said quarterback Cody Stroud. “If we could have just converted a touchdown

instead of a field goal in just one of those games, we wouldn’t be in this situation. That’s the way it falls sometimes.”

Those previous games will continue to eat away at McNeese for a long time, but there was nothing shameful about the performance

at UTSA.

It certainly looked like it was headed

that way when the Roadrunners converted their seventh straight third

down for a 31-yard

touchdown to take a 28-10 lead early in the fourth quarter. This

game was hurtling down the off-ramp to Blowoutsville fast.

The certainty of the loss was only cemented when Stroud was picked off on a deep ball. The Roadrunners marched back down the

field again. McNeese finally held them on a third down, but not until they were in range for a field goal to make it 31-10

with 9:55 remaining. It only seemed a matter of how ugly the scoreboard would get.

Instead, the Cowboys used the last 10 minutes to demonstrate why they are a high-character team — not to mention why those

two one-point losses are so much more frustrating right now. This is a really good football team that failed to execute a

handful of plays that would have made it a great one.

Even against the Roadrunners, there was that one play that could have changed the tide had it gone the other way.

With the Cowboys trailing 14-10 early in the third quarter, Matt Viator decided it was time to get the ball in the hands of

his best playmaker.

Darius Carey did the first part of the job, beating his man by a step on a fly pattern down the field. Stroud did his job,

delivering a strike from 40 yards away. If UTSA’s defensive back recovers to make a great tackle, McNeese has the ball at

the UTSA 15 at worse. If not, Carey has a chance to score.

But through Carey’s fingers the ball went, falling to the turf as he reacted in total disbelief.

“It stuck with me throughout the rest of the game,” Carey said. “A lot of the coaches were telling me ‘Just let it go and

move on to the next play.’ But knowing what I can do when the ball was in the air, that’s a play I should have made.”

Even though the Cowboys are haunted by their narrow losses, there is a realization that there’s till one more game on the

schedule.

“I think about (those losses) every day,” said senior defensive tackle Pat Williams. “But that’s the past and there’s nothing

we can do about it. We just have to focus on the future.”

For Williams, that future only includes

one more game. But it is an important game nevertheless. McNeese still

has a significant

upper hand on its new-found rival, Lamar. Saturday will provide

another chance to show any high school recruit who picks Lamar

over McNeese that they’re out of their dang minds.

That ending isn’t as satisfying as what could have or even should have been, but for McNeese the milk has been on the table for weeks. There just weren’t enough paper towels to clean it all up.

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Alex Hickey covers McNeese sports. Email him at ahickey@americanpress.com