Hickey Column: No need to worry just yet for Cowboys

By By Alex Hickey / American Press

Iowa is a lot more Hollywood than you’d think.

My trip to Northern Iowa began with a visit to the nearby Field of Dreams on Friday afternoon. It ended inside the Temple

of Doom on Saturday evening.

At least that’s what the UNI-Dome must

have felt like to McNeese State, which could make very little go right

in a nightmarish

41-6 loss to the fifth-ranked Panthers. The bad news began as soon

as the Cowboys fumbled away the opening kickoff and never

relented.

There were a few glimmers of hope, but each was snuffed out before you could say “corncob.”

The first came on UNI’s first possession. A snap went over UNI quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen’s head, traveling some 20 yards

backwards to midfield. If a McNeese defensive lineman gets his mitts on the ball, the Cowboys have the first score of the

game.

Instead, Kollmorgen is able to scoop it up on the run, then throw the ball away to prevent a UNI disaster.

The next glimmer came late in the first half with McNeese down 17-0. Jean Breaux’s punt hit a UNI player in the back, and

it looked like just the kind of freak play McNeese needed to bring some momentum into the locker room.

Instead, it rolled forward some 10 yards and was recovered by the Panthers.

A goal-line stand to finish the first half looked like it could be that moment that turned the tide. When UNI fumbled the

opening kickoff, there was a half-second where everything looked like it could turn around — until the Panthers once again

pounced on their own fumble.

Four plays later, UNI was up 24-0.

There was one more quasi-sliver of hope on the UNI drive following McNeese’s lone touchdown of the game.

Cowboys cornerback Aaron Sam made a great read on a Kollmorgen pass, and you knew “If he’s got it, he’s gone.”

Sam knew it as well as anyone in the building. His frustrated reaction as the ball bounced off his chest onto the ground told

the story of someone who wasn’t satisfied with a mere pass breakup.

The defense did hold on that possession, but when a snap went 20 yards over Cody Stroud’s head and was recovered by the Panthers

at the McNeese 2, it was all over but the crying.

There is no question who the better team was on Saturday. There’s a strong chance McNeese still loses if every one of those

moments had rolled its way. But each of those moments helped explain how things got so ugly.

This week, we will learn a lot more about what the loss means on both sides of the equation.

Northern Iowa visits North Dakota State. With a win, the Panthers could jump to No. 1 in the polls. While getting crushed

is no one’s idea of a good time, some of the sting goes away if it’s the best team in the country doing the thumping.

Of greater importance to the Cowboys is their own response. Another brutal road trip awaits to McNeese’s personal house of

horror in Conway, Ark., to face No. 13 Central Arkansas.

“We have some goals, and this game didn’t have anything to do with any of them,” McNeese coach Matt Viator said after the

game. “Our goal is to win the conference and to make the playoffs. This game doesn’t really have anything to do with what

we’re trying to accomplish. But we’re going to have to play better than this.”

Every word he said was true.

Win next week, and a conference championship becomes an attainable goal. Win the rest of them, and McNeese is in the same

spot it would be regardless of the UNI result — staring at a home playoff game with a first-round bye.

But for any of that to come to fruition, it’s Viator’s last sentence that will have to resonate the loudest.

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