McNeese gets No. 6 seed, bye for first round of FCS playoffs

By By Alex Hickey / American Press

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.”