McNeese pulls off upset of MTSU in season opener

By By Alex Hickey / American Press

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Anyone who was surprised wasn’t on the visiting sideline.

McNeese State opened its season with a 27-21 win over Bowl Subdivision opponent Middle Tennessee State on Thursday night,

improving to 3-0 against teams from the allegedly superior Sun Belt Conference since 2002.

“We were physical and ran the ball right at them,” said Cowboys head coach Matt Viator. “It was a great win.”

Though technically an upset, McNeese had a “taking-care-of-business” air about itself.

“It’s a great feeling being able to come up here and show everybody we’re a good, solid program,” said senior offensive lineman

Miguel Gauthreaux. “We’ve had some ups-and-downs over the years, but I think this is our year right here.”

McNeese (1-0) won the game with total

control of the ground. The Cowboys gashed hole after hole through the

Blue Raiders defense,

rushing for 298 yards on 51 attempts. Marcus Wiltz was the leading

carrier with 105 yards on 20 carries.

“We made their backs look like Doak Walker candidates,” said MTSU defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix.

It was the early play of the defense that allowed the Cowboys’ offense to take control.

MTSU (0-1) drove into the red zone twice in the first 16 minutes but walked away with field goals both times.

“The defense played great early,” said quarterback Cody Stroud. “We were motivated after that stop. Six-and-0 is great compared

to 14-0 for an offense.”

Cornerback Guy Morgan said a first-quarter sack by Joe Narcisse with the Blue Raiders at the Cowboys’ 3-yard line sparked

the defense.

“After we stopped them there, we knew we could stop them on defense,” Morgan said. “We just had to adjust to the tempo of

their offense.”

Morgan later made a big play of his own, diving about 3-4 feet to pick off a Logan Kilgore pass at the McNeese 33 in the third

quarter.

“I knew they were going to come back

because they had just completed one like that on me,” Morgan said. “I

just read the quarterback’s

eyes and made an amazing catch.”

True freshman Bo Brown had the play of the game for McNeese on special teams, recovering a ball that caromed off the foot

of MTSU punt returner Chris Sharpe.

“It was a very alert play,” Viator said. “We decided not to redshirt him because we feel he can help us on all special teams.”

The Cowboys turned that turnover into points, as Cody Stroud plunged across the line for a 1-yard touchdown to give McNeese

a 24-6 lead with 1:20 left in the third quarter.

Finishing would not be so easy.

MTSU mounted a 17-play, 97-yard drive for its first touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, then added a 2-point conversion

with a circus catch by Jordan Parker.

The Blue Raiders attempted an onside kick that was recovered by McNeese, which gave itself more cushion with a 33-yard Josh

Lewis field goal.

Disaster nearly struck one play later when Reggie Whatley returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards to the McNeese 15. Kilgore

found Kyle Griswould for a touchdown on the first play of the drive, cutting the deficit to 27-21.

That’s when the Cowboys’ offensive line finished the job it started.

McNeese picked up two first downs on the ground in its final possession with MTSU down to one timeout. The Cowboys punted

with 16 seconds remaining, downing the kick at the 2-yard line.

The Blue Raiders tried to pull a three-lateral miracle out of their pockets on the final play, making it out to their own

40 before fumbling it away.

McNeese sophomore cornerback Aaron Sam jumped on the ball to finish the game.