Cowboys hold on to beat Demons in SLC grudge match

By By Alex Hickey / American Press

Somehow, it always comes down to this when these two teams get together.

McNeese State continued its dominance of Northwestern State, but as is the norm it was not in a comfortable manner.

The Cowboys didn’t put things away offensively when presented the opportunity but escaped with a 30-22 win over the Demons

when Ford Smesny intercepted a Brad Henderson pass at the Cowboy 25-yard line with just over a minute remaining on a rainy

Saturday night at Cowboy Stadium.

Smesny missed the second half of last week’s loss to Southeastern Louisiana with an injury.

“We communicated more in the back end,”

Smesny said. “We did a good job getting the ball tipped the last play

and I just happened

to be in the right spot. The coaches did a good job putting us in

the right spots all week.”

McNeese (4-1, 1-1 Southland) has won eight straight against the Demons, but six of those have been decided by a touchdown

or less.

“These are tough games,” said McNeese head coach Matt Viator. “The kids know each other. Somebody wanted to go here or wanted

to go there. They just always seem to be really tough.”

The Cowboys could have increased the

scoring gap on this one but couldn’t punch the ball over the goal line

on four consecutive

trips into the red zone in the middle of the game. Those drives

resulted in three Josh Lewis field goals and a Champlain Babin

fumble that was recovered by the Demons.

“We just can’t seem to finish it the way we’d like to finish it, but we’ll take a victory any day,” Viator said. “Maybe we

wouldn’t have been in this position at the end had we (scored touchdowns), but Northwestern’s good up front. We just came

close to scoring some more.”

Perhaps the most frustrating of the chances was a methodical 18-play, 64-yard drive in the third quarter that took 9:23 off

the clock but only resulted in a 21-yard Lewis field goal.

Javaris Murray finally brought an end

to the string of touchdown-less red-zone trips with an 18-yard run that

put McNeese

up 30-14 with 9:28 left in the game. The run came two plays after

Cowboys defensive tackle Kevin Dorn recovered a Henderson

fumble.

However, McNeese couldn’t stick with the good fortune for long.

Northwestern State (2-3, 0-1) pulled

back into the game when Henderson found Jovhan Jilbert for a 58-yard

touchdown pass where

two McNeese defensive backs whiffed on tackle attempts. The long

pass finished off an 11-play, 98-yard drive by the Demons.

Big plays were Northwestern’s

bread-and-butter in the second half after getting held off the

scoreboard by the Cowboys before

the break. The Demons opened the half with 60-yard Phillip Harvey

kickoff return to the McNeese 34 before he was forced out

by kicker Jean Breaux.

Three plays later, the Demons were on the board for the first time when Henderson hit Clifton Brown on an 18-yard pass in

the end zone.

The Demons cut the margin down to 20-14 when Henderson and Harvey connected on an impressive 41-yard rainbow in the third

quarter.

McNeese scored the next 10 points with a 31-yard Lewis field goal and Murray’s touchdown run.

The Demons drove into McNeese territory on their final drive before Smesny picked off Henderson. It was Henderson’s first

interception this season. Henderson finished the game with 287 yards and three touchdowns on 24 of 40 passing.

Cody Stroud was 12 of 25 for 195 yards and two touchdowns — a 17-yarder to Josh Jordan and a 43-yarder to Diontae Spencer.

The Cowboys have a bye next week before playing host to Central Arkansas.