McNeese State wide receiver/kick returner Diontae Spencer runs against Stephen F. Austin Saturday afternoon in Nacogdoches, Texas. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Saturday, November 09, 2013 8:58 PM
NACOGDOCHES, Texas — Homer Bryce Stadium is the only venue in the Southland Conference with a track around the football field.
On Saturday night, Diontae Spencer and McNeese State turned the field into a track.
Spencer had a game for the ages, setting the single-game school record for all-purpose yards while scoring five touchdowns in the No. 11 Cowboys’ 69-38 win over Stephen F. Austin.
Fittingly, McNeese head coach Matt Viator said it was Spencer’s track season that set him up for a night like this on the gridiron.
“I’m very excited for him,” Viator said. “He’s a great kid. I’m glad he stuck with track last spring. He was already fast, but I think (track) coach (Brendon) Gilroy and them really helped him with his speed. His top-end speed, it just looked like he hit another gear.”
Spencer finished with 365 all-purpose yards, breaking B.J. Sams’ school-record mark of 316 set against Western Kentucky in 2002.
The senior from New Iberia had kickoff returns of 93 and 85 yards, a punt return of 35 yards, and touchdown receptions of 10 and 9 yards. He finished with 152 yards on seven catches and 213 yards on his three returns.
His three return scores tied a Football Championship Subdivision single-game record held by three other players.
“We knew we could get them on special teams looking at recent games that they played,” Spencer said. “But we didn’t expect it to be like that.
“The guys up front got their blocks, and I just did a great job of hitting (the holes) with speed. Hats off to those guys, because they blocked it perfect.”
Spencer’s special teams plays jump-started an offense that once again got off to a slow start that could not be determined by looking at the final score. His kickoff returns accounted for McNeese’s first two touchdowns, with the second one cutting SFA’s lead to 17-14 when it appeared the Cowboys might be in trouble.
“He made some huge plays to turn the game around,” said safety Ryan Bronson. “Once you see a guy on your team giving his all like that, you want to go out there and do the best you can. He’s gassed and he’s tired, but he’s giving 100 percent effort.”
The Cowboys (8-2, 4-1 SLC) weren’t out of the woods at that point, as Mike Brooks promptly answered Spencer’s second score with a 100-yard return to put the Lumberjacks (3-7, 1-4), last place in the Southland, back up by 10 in the first quarter.
As has frequently been the case this year, the second quarter proved to be McNeese’s best friend. The Cowboys started gelling on both sides of the ball, outscoring SFA 24-0 to take a 45-24 lead into the locker room.
“It’s not a rah-rah team by any stretch,” Viator said. “But they just keep battling. It’s the same with coaches. Everyone keeps their cool and hangs in there, and we started making plays on both sides.”
After going 2-for-7 in the first quarter, quarterback Cody Stroud found his groove after connecting with Ernest Celestie on a 71-yard touchdown pass that gave McNeese its first lead at 28-24 midway though the second quarter.
The Cowboys never looked back.
“We were killing ourselves with a few penalties (early),” Stroud said. “I don’t know what it is. It seems like every game we start off slow. We’ve definitely got to fix that.”
Stroud ended the game 17 of 33 for 333 yards and four touchdowns.
SFA finished with 463 total yards on offense, which was 133 below its season average. The Cowboys also forced three turnovers.