Lions upset Cowboys in Southland Conference opener

By By Alex Hickey / American Press

HAMMOND — Give any team enough chances, even a winless one, and eventually you’ll pay.

And boy, was McNeese State in a generous mood Saturday.

Mistake upon mistake, upon injury upon mistake, compounded for the Cowboys, who were stunned 25-24 by Southeastern Louisiana

in the Southland Conference opener for both teams. It was SLU’s first win over McNeese since 2005.

An inability to stop SLU (1-3, 1-0 Southland) in key situations was the story of the game for a McNeese (3-1, 0-1) defense

that hardly had an opening-night starter on the field by the end. The Lions were an otherworldy 8 of 17 on third down and

3 of 5 on fourth down.

“Bottom line: we didn’t play good enough to win,” said McNeese coach Matt Viator. “Defensively we played good. We just couldn’t

get them off the field. And we couldn’t stay on the field on offense. That was the difference.”

SLU’s two biggest fourth-down conversions came on the go-ahead possession.

Punter Beau Mothe connected with long snapper Rogers Mueller on a fake punt pass that went for 27 yards and put the Lions

in McNeese territory, bringing a previously dormant crowd into hysterics.

“It’s something we’ve been working on,”

said SLU head coach Rob Roberts. “We were looking to see if it was

there. We were

going to burn a timeout if it wasn’t. But he saw it, and he took

it. It was great execution by Beau and a great catch by Rogers.”

The possession ended on fourth-and-goal when quarterback found tight end Taylor Jenkins standing in the end zone without a

defender within a 5-yard radius for a 3-yard touchdown with 2:39 remaining. The score capped a 17-play, 80-yard drive that

lasted 7:03.

As it turns out, the possession hadn’t actually ended.

McNeese managed to pick up a penalty for too many men on the field on the point-after attempt, giving SLU the ball at the

1-and-a half yard line. Smelling blood, Roberts went for the kill.

Michael Chaney rushed into the end zone for a 2-point conversion to give the Lions the 25-24 lead.

“As soon as the penalty popped up, I figured it was a chance for us to seal this game,” Roberts said. “I believed we could

get a yard-and-a half, especially with what was at stake.”

It was another piece of special teams negligence that allowed the Lions to take the lead in the first place.

McNeese appeared to take a 10-point

lead on a 31-yard field goal by Josh Lewis, but the play was waved off

by a false-start

penalty on freshman Logan Gladney. Lewis did not make the second

attempt, pushing it wide left. He is 4-for-7 on field-goal

attempts this year.

“The false start, I don’t know how to

explain it,” Viator said. “And too many men on the field, there’s no

excuse. But I attribute

it to playing a bunch of guys. We were shuffling guys in and out

of there.”

Any chance for Lewis to atone for his

miss was wiped out one play into McNeese’s final drive when Robert

Alford made a one-handed

interception on a Cody Stroud pass at the McNeese 30.

Early on, it didn’t look like late-game

heroics would be a factor for either team. McNeese jumped on SLU in the

first quarter,

going up 14-0 less than nine minutes into the game. The Cowboys

forced the Lions to go three-and-out on their first possession,

then recovered a fumble on the first play of SLU’s second

possession. Both were turned into touchdowns.

The Cowboys were left kicking themselves after a squandered opportunity at the end of the first half.

Freshman punter Jean Breaux seemingly

shocked everyone on SLU’s side of the field with a 24-yard run to the

SLU 12 on a fourth-and-22

in the final minute of the second quarter.

The Lions helped the Cowboys get even

closer to the goal line with a penalty on the ensuing set of downs, but

three incompletions

in the back of the end zone and a quarterback sack forced McNeese

to settle for a field goal and take a 24-10 lead into the

break.

“Obviously we’d have liked to score the touchdown, but going up 14 points, I still felt good about that,” Viator said. “In

the second half, we just didn’t make enough plays on offense and we had a few plays to get them off the field on defense.

Give them credit. They made play after play on third down.”

The McNeese offense, which had rushed for at least 290 yards in each of its first three games, was limited to 147 by a SLU

defense that had been allowing an average of 244.7 per game.

McNeese’s defense, without starting

free safety Malcolm Bronson and linebacker Joe Narcisse, lost cornerback

Guy Morgan, linebacker

Orrin Fontenot and safeties Ford Smesny and Wallace Scott over the

course of the game.

“We have a lot of guys who have had a

lot of time throughout the season. That’s no excuse,” said safety

Terrence Cahee. “That’s

no excuse. We had a chance to make some plays, and also they made

some really good plays. Yeah, it hurts us to lose some starters.

But that happens every season. You’re gonna have to overcome it.”