Last Modified: Saturday, October 13, 2012 10:58 PM
A minute of horror wrecked a night's good work and a season full of promise.
In that one minute, actually 1:10, McNeese State went from a team on the brink of the playoffs to one in desperate hope of survival.
That's all it took, 70 seconds, for Central Arkansas to steal the Cowboys' thunder.
It is those 70 seconds that McNeese players will replay in their dreams for at least the next few days. For in those precious final ticks of the clock Saturday night, the Cowboys suffered through a touchdown pass, a strange onside kick and a career-long field goal by the opposing kicker.
All that led to a heartbreaking 27-26 loss when victory was in hand 70 seconds earlier."It is such a tough loss, I don't know what to say," said Cowboy defense tackle Kevin Dorn. "It's stunning. You can't explain what happened. It just happened."
This one is going to leave a mark on this team.
They were 70 seconds from controlling their own destiny when it came to the Southland Conference championship and a return to the postseason. Now, they simply have to run the table, and that won't be easy.
"It is still all right in front of us," Dorn said.
Maybe, but with 70 seconds left Saturday night it was not only in front of them, the Cowboys had a stranglehold on their future.
Now, it is up for grabs.
"This is going to be our biggest test," said McNeese head coach Matt Viator.
Viator could have been speaking of next week's upcoming game at Sam Houston State, one that is now a must-win for these Cowboys if they are to get where they want to go. Or he could have been speaking of the job his coaching staff now must do to keep this team from suffering a major letdown.
"We can't let this define our season," Dorn said.
Good words, but the reality is it might have already done that.
Moments after Eddie Camara's field goal cleared the crossbar, and seconds after the Cowboys' final desperation play ended further from the goal line then it began, McNeese players showed how much this one hurt.
Some teared up, others looked off in the distance with a cold stare that resembled shock. Others just walked around looking for some place to be.
Never has a team and a crowd gone so quickly from throwing a party to searching for a quiet place to hide.
"This is tough, no question about it," Dorn said. "We felt like we had it and didn't finish it off."
Truth be told, the Cowboys had numerous chances during the game.
There was that missed extra point in the second quarter, the trip to the red zone in the first that ended with just a field goal, and that fourth-and-10 play in the fourth quarter when Central Arkansas quarterback Wynrick Smothers scrambled for 11 yards.
"There were chances for plays to be made out there at times and we didn't make enough of them," Viator said. "Give those guys over there credit, they made enough.''
Maybe it didn't come down to just those final 70 seconds, but it sure felt like it.
"We have to overcome this," Dorn said. "We have to come back ready to work, ready for the next game. This is a big week."
It was made just that much bigger by that minute of horror.
"Most of the night we did a lot of good things and played a good game," Viator said.
On this night most wasn't good enough.
Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org