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McNeese State's Ernest Celestie runs after the catch against Nicholls State last season. (American Press Archives)

McNeese State's Ernest Celestie runs after the catch against Nicholls State last season. (American Press Archives)

Struggling Colonels get stars back in time to face Cowboys

Last Modified: Wednesday, October 31, 2012 10:43 PM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

When you’re Nicholls State, you can hardly afford to compete with a hand tied behind your back.

Yet the Colonels have had to do so for most of the season as essentially half of their offensive package went down when receiver/wildcat quarterback LaQuintin Caston broke his collarbone at Tulsa in Week 2. His replacement, Tuskani Figaro, showed plenty of promise until he was lost to a shoulder injury in Week 5 at Central Arkansas.

Predictably, the results have not been pleasant.

Nicholls (1-6, 0-4 Southland) enters Saturday’s game against McNeese on an 11-game conference losing streak, its longest since its first 12 games as a Southland member from 1991-93.

“It’s been a struggle, but we’ve been morally competitive in most situations this year,” said third-year coach Charlie Stubbs. “We’ve got good leadership, and good coaches that keep things in perspective. The thing that’s hindered our progress is we make steps forward and then injuries happen again, and it’s like you’re on a treadmill.”

But Stubbs and the Colonels said the end of that inglorious streak may be just around the corner now that they’ve got both of their hands back. Caston returned to the lineup last week, leading the team with 57 yards on 10 carries in a 27-26 loss at Northwestern State.

“He has not had any contact in five weeks. He was rusty, but he progressed,” Stubbs said. “I expect to expand more each week with him.”

McNeese head coach Matt Viator knows he has to respect Caston’s ability. Last year he unexpectedly got the start at quarterback and helped the Colonels hang tight before falling 26-17 with a late safety putting the game out of reach.

“When he’s in there, they’ll be running the option, but in different sets and different ways than they used to,” Viator said. “Now it’s all shotgun-option like Sam Houston runs.”

There should be no surprises behind center this year. Landry Klann has been the Colonels’ starter most of the year and has the team looking vastly different than its triple-option past. Nicholls is third in the Southland in passing offense with an average of 231 yards per game.

Viator said it’s a sign of improvement, but also noted the Colonels have gone to the air early after falling behind in several games.

“It’s twofold,” Viator said. “They’re a lot better throwing the football. The kid can drop back and throw it. But they’ve been down in some games too, so they’re throwing a lot in the second half. But they are a lot better than what they have been.”

Stubbs said he hopes the return of Caston will further supplement the offense’s ability to score.

“Everybody has to respect LaQuintin in the wildcat. He’s an adequate thrower,” Stubbs said. “Having him back definitely gives me more options.”

Defensively, the Colonels feature an all-conference caliber linebacker in Jordan Piper, who leads the league with an average of 11.1 tackles per game. No other Colonel is averaging more than 5.1 tackles a game.

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