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McNeese State quarterback Cody Stroud. (Associated Press)

McNeese State quarterback Cody Stroud. (Associated Press)

Second-ranked Sam Houston State good measuring stick for Cowboys

Last Modified: Tuesday, October 15, 2013 8:05 PM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

Ninth-ranked McNeese State is treating homecoming opponent Sam Houston State with a mixture of reverence and confidence.

“It’s Sam Houston. You can’t say much else,” said Cowboys quarterback Cody Stroud. “I think we all had this marked on our calendars months ago when it came out.”

Ask any Cowboy and he’ll tell you that the No. 2 Bearkats (5-1, 1-0 Southland) are the standard-bearer in the SLC after back-to-back appearances in the Football Championship Subdivision national championship game.

But he’ll also tell you that McNeese (5-1, 1-0) has caught up to a program that had lapped it in the past two seasons, and Saturday night will be an opportunity to prove that’s the case.

“To be able to face a team of Sam Houston’s caliber is exciting just if you’re a competitor and love the sport of football,” said senior safety Terence Cahee. “Numbers don’t lie. They won the last two conference championships and, as of now, they are still (the champs). But it’s a new season, and we’re both 1-0 in conference and looking to go 2-0. At the end of the season we’ll see where we fall.”

The Cowboys have an additional chip on their shoulders after getting trounced in this season’s previous matchup with a top-five opponent, losing 41-6 at No. 5 Northern Iowa on Sept. 28.

“We want to show that we can compete with a team like that and that we’re also at that level,” said senior cornerback Guy Morgan.

Defensive end Chris Loveless said the Cowboys have a better chance against the Bearkats than the last two seasons because they are closer to full strength.

“They’ve done their thing and proved they’re a good team,” Loveless said. “But they haven’t actually played a true McNeese team in two years. I’m excited because even though we lost (Wes) Briscoe, this is the healthiest we’ve been in two years. So they’re going to get a taste ­— and we’re going to get a taste — of what it’s like to play a top team in our conference.

“This is a great opportunity to prove to other schools in the FCS that we’re the truth.”

The maturation of Stroud behind center gives the Cowboys reason to believe they can turn the tables.

The Bearkats defense essentially dared Stroud to beat them through the air the last year, and he went 10 of 26 for 119 yards in response. But that version of Stroud was not the same as the one ranked second in the league in pass efficiency and leading the way with 14 touchdown passes.

“We have a lot more maturity at certain positions, me included,” Stroud said. “The past few years we hadn’t put it all together. We had a good run game, but I hadn’t really done anything to help it out. This year I think we’ve got the capability of doing either/or.”

Wide receiver Diontae Spencer didn’t exactly channel Joe Namath in the guarantee department, but he said McNeese can prove a lot this weekend.

“Their body of work the past two years is impressive. We know we’re going against a great team,” Spencer said. “I take the challenge. To be the best, you have to beat the best. I feel they’re at the top of the game in the FCS … but we feel we’re better and we’re preparing better. Saturday night we’ll show it.”

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