Cowboys, Lions open Southland play Saturday

Published 6:00 pm Tuesday, April 12, 2005

McNeese State opens Southland Conference play with the team it has had the toughest time shaking in the last two years when it plays host to Southeastern Louisiana at 7 p.m. today in Cowboy Stadium.

It’s the earliest conference opener on the schedule for the No. 19 Cowboys (1-1) since 1989.

“This is definitely different, opening conference in the third game,” said McNeese head coach Matt Viator. “There’s still questions in certain areas, and usually you have four games and an open week to figure all that out. This year we don’t, but we’re looking forward to it.”

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The last two meetings between McNeese and SLU have gone down to the wire. Josh Lewis hit a 52-yard field goal at the gun to give the Cowboys a 13-10 win in Hammond last year, and Derrick Fourroux found Richard Conner in the end zone in the final minute for a 36-35 win in 2009.

Both coaches think familiarity between players explains the closeness of the matchup. Many on both teams are familiar with one another from high school — for example, Westlake graduate Ricky Irvin starts at linebacker for the Lions while former teammate Terence Cahee plays for the Cowboys.

“I think both rosters have so many Louisiana kids on them that a lot of these guys played each other in high school, and when we play each other they like to get after it,” said SLU coach Mike Lucas. “They’ve been great ballgames the last two years. I wish we’d get on top of one of them. It’s awful tough walking off the field when you lose in the last minute.”

Both teams enter the game with plenty of questions.

Southeastern (1-2) has played two Football Bowl Subdivision teams and an overmatched Football Championship Subdivision opponent in Savannah State, while McNeese has played a FBS team and a Division II team sandwiched around a bye week.

Lucas said he wants to see improvement from a defense that allowed 52 points to Southern Mississippi last week. Viator said he wants to see more consistency from an offense that has racked up more than 400 yards in each of its first two games but hasn’t punched the ball over the goal line as often as he’d like.

Though last year was a defensive struggle, this one has the potential to become a shootout. SLU ran more than 90 offensive plays against Tulane and Savannah State, and the McNeese defense is prepared for an up-tempo game that will require mass substations.

“One of the hard things about playing against an offense that’s up-tempo is being able to sub how you want to sub,” Viator said.