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(Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)

(Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)

Jacksonville State hands McNeese another early playoff exit

Last Modified: Saturday, December 07, 2013 11:34 PM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

And so it ended up being like the last one. And the one before that. And the one before that. And the one before that.

McNeese State’s time-honored tradition of being emphatically knocked out of the playoffs was revisited on Saturday night, with Jacksonville State doing the clubbing on this particular occasion.

The Gamecocks handed the Cowboys their fifth consecutive one-and-done playoff appearance in lopsided fashion, dominating McNeese 31-10.

“It’s hard to explain, obviously. I don’t even know where to start,” said McNeese head coach Matt Viator. “We played hard, but did not execute the way we have or would like on offense.

“The most disappointing thing is if you lose, you want to lose playing your best. Not to take anything away from Jacksonville State, but when you don’t play your best it’s disappointing. And that’s on me as a coach, because that’s my job.”

McNeese’s last five playoff losses are by a combined total of 180-47 — an average margin of 26.6 points per game. The Cowboys have lost six straight dating to the 2002 Division I-AA national championship game, and four in a row under Viator.

It was ugly early and often Saturday night.

Jacksonville State sets a single-game school record with 11 sacks — seven of which came in the first half.

The Cowboys had allowed 14 sacks in their previous 12 games.

“The sacks were a by-product of getting behind the chains,” Viator said. “We’re not a second-and-13, third-and-15 team. That’s just not who we are.”

Smothering secondary coverage bought the Gamecocks plenty of time to get to the quarterback.

“A lot of it for us starts with coverage,” said JSU coach Bill Clark. “We like to play a lot of press coverage, which you don’t see a lot of. We knew we had to stop the running game first. We had to get them in situations where they had to throw the ball. Our pass rush was great in the first half, and then our coverage was great. Some of those were coverage sacks.”

McNeese’s first drive provided a fairly accurate microcosm of the game.

After gaining 18 yards on two running plays, the Cowboys went to the air. It would have worked, but Cody Stroud badly underthrew a wide-open Ernest Celestie. A fumbled shotgun snap sent McNeese back 11 yards, and then Stroud was picked off by Ketrick Wolfe at the McNeese 34.

The Gamecocks gained 15 yards with an unsportsmanlike conduct call after the play, and JSU scored on their first offensive play when Eli Jenkins hit Josh Barge on a 19-yard strike.

McNeese has been down that road before, with the opponent scoring first in 12 of 13 games this season. But this time the Cowboys never got on track.

“I don’t want to be down 7-0, but it seems like we’ve been down 7-0 every game,” Viator said. “I thought we still had everything ahead of us.”

McNeese converted one third down in the first half, and that was via penalty. The Gamecocks took a 21-0 lead into the locker room, at which point many in the meager crowd of 5,036 decided to call it a night.

Despite being thoroughly dominated for most of the game, the Cowboys were somehow still alive until late.

McNeese found the end zone with 10:11 remaining, when Stroud hit Celestie on fourth-and-goal for a 10-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 24-10.

“I reminded them that at South Florida we put up 30-something in a quarter,” Stroud said. “We were capable of doing it. We just had to get it done.”

The defense, which had kept the game from spiraling out of control much sooner, could not hold this time. The Gamecocks used a steady diet of running back DaMarcus James to complete a nine-play, 72-yard touchdown drive that put the game out of reach.

A 25-yard James gain on first-and-20 was the biggest backbreaker.

“My only goal was to get a first down, and after that have fun with it,” James said.

James finished with 127 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries.

Stroud was 18 of 40 for 255 yards with two interceptions and a lost fumble on the last of his 11 sacks.

“When you’re supposedly No. 4 in the country in offense and put up 10 points in a game in the playoffs, you’re probably not going to win,” Stroud said.

Posted By: Uncle Mo On: 1/8/2014

Title: QB

You have a FBS QB that was moved to Safety. Give him a shot he is atleast mobile and not a sitting duck to get sacked because he's stuck in cement.

Posted By: glenn rains On: 12/17/2013

Title: mcneese loss

I believe coach Viator is an will be one of the Cowboys best coaches ever--its in his Blood--I for one will always be a supporter!

Posted By: Bob A On: 12/10/2013

Title: The Big Boom Box

Can't talk about the game yet. But I can comment on the HUGELY ANNOYING way too loud music (?) blaring constantly from the super efficient PA system. Did anyone else notice it blaring out over the McNeese band's playing, and Jacksonville state Band? It was as if a single second of "dead air" was not to be tolerated by whomever controlled it, beginning around 1 1/2 hrs before game time. Bruce, you seem to be a stickler for tradition, but that intolerable, constant mind numbing noise makes one think we are at a Rock Concert, not a football game! No wonder the 5000 fans attending won't participate. The dreadful PA system has substituted for the traditionalcollege game atmosphere.

Posted By: Kenny Stevens On: 12/9/2013

Title: Not suprised

I am not suprised, just look at how we played the other elite teams still in the playoffs. We we blown out and no offense. Cody is a decent QB, but not the type to bring a program to elite status. Get a FBS transfer QB (like Southeastern ) did and watch. These QB's that start for McNeese are ordinary QB's. With all the talent that McNeese has on the field, we are just pretenders with the QB's that we have and not contenders.
Same thing each year in the playoffs and what happened is what I expected and I like and follow McNeese.

Posted By: Zack Bronson On: 12/9/2013

Title: Bust

Bad year I thought national championship after the USF WIN

Posted By: John On: 12/8/2013

Title: Surprise

You mean another Viator. Coached Mcneese team lost in their first game of the playoffs?!? That's shocking!

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