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Southeastern Louisiana quarterback Bryan Bennett. (Associated Press)

Southeastern Louisiana quarterback Bryan Bennett. (Associated Press)

First place isn’t only thing at stake for McNeese, SLU

Last Modified: Friday, November 01, 2013 5:40 PM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

Two weeks ago, McNeese State re-established its traditional perch atop the Southland Conference football standings with a win over recent heavyweight Sam Houston State.

Tonight, the fourth-ranked Cowboys (7-1, 3-0 SLC) will attempt to stay there against the league’s newest challenger.

Ranked for the first time in nine years and riding its longest winning streak in 30, No. 25 Southeastern Louisiana (5-2, 3-0) comes to Cowboy Stadium for a first-place showdown.

“I’m really impressed with what they’re doing,” said McNeese head coach Matt Viator. “They’re a really talented football team when you look at them across the board.”

The Cowboys and Lions are the final two unbeatens in conference play, so the winner will control its own destiny for the final three games of the regular season.

“We’ve played some good football teams,” said Lions head coach Ron Roberts. “They’re the best team we’ve played to date.”

SLU’s schedule has included games at Football Bowl Subdivision Texas Christian, Football Championship Subdivision No. 19 South Dakota State and No. 15 Sanford.

The teams are led by two of the most efficient quarterbacks in FCS. McNeese senior Cody Stroud is eighth in the FCS with a rating of 164.7, while SLU’s Bryan Bennett is 11th with a 155.2 rating.

That’s where the similarity ends.

Stroud is a pocket passer with 18 touchdowns and two interceptions. Bennett has rushed for as many touchdowns as he has passed for — nine each. The Oregon transfer has thrown seven interceptions, but only one has come during the Lions’ five-game winning streak.

Viator said Bennett’s style compares to that of former Cowboys star Derrick Fourroux and current Sam Houston State quarterback Brian Bell.

“He’s probably a little bit faster than Brian Bell, but a lot of the same things,” Viator said. “He throws it a lot like him. He’s just a little quicker.”

For McNeese, first place isn’t the only thing at stake.

The Cowboys have been smarting about last year’s 25-24 loss at Strawberry Stadium since it happened. SLU won by converting two fourth downs on its final drive — including a fake punt — and then a 2-point conversion to take the lead rather than playing for a tie.

Avenging that loss would be a cherry on top of putting a stranglehold on the Southland.

“It does add a little bit, knowing the feeling they gave us last year,” Stroud said. “We thought we were the better team. They had a better second half and won. It does give a little extra motivation, but we have to come in knowing this is a different year and have the right game plan.

“We’ll get the job done this week.”

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