As the ball bounced strangely on the turf, players from both sides avoided it as if it were a some type of moving land mine.
All players but one that is.
The smallest guy on the field picked it up and began racing toward the goal line. After 66 yards he was caught from behind as he closed in on the goal line.
The play showed that Mason Pierce is not afraid to take chances. Moments later he finished McNeese State’s journey into the end zone when he sprinted 3 yards around end after taking a backward pass from quarterback Cody Orgeron.
It was Pierce’s third score of the game against Southeastern Louisiana and cut a 17-point lead to three with a little more than 3 minutes remaining.
“I saw everybody running past and away from the ball and just went over, picked it up and started running,” Pierce said. “I thought I was going to score.”
As for getting caught from behind, he simply said: “I’m not sure how that happened.”
For his part, Pierce is making things happen for the 1-4 Cowboys, who are idle this week.
At a listed 5-foot-9 — he admits to being 5-7 — and 156 pounds, the sophomore from Pearland, Texas, looks nothing like the typical football player. But Pierce is proving that big things can come in small packages.
“With his speed he can make things happen,” said McNeese head coach Frank Wilson. “He has big-play ability. He is turning into a really big weapon for us in different spots.”
Pierce proved he was a special teams wonder in Week 3 when he took the opening kickoff and bolted 100 yards for a score against Southern University, the Cowboys’ lone win. He earned the Southland Conference’s special teams Player of the Week for his work.
“He can turn a game quick with his speed, but he is also a pretty good football player,” Wilson said.
Pierce proved that against the Lions, finishing with a career-best six catches for 79 yards and two receiving touchdowns to go with his rushing TD last Saturday. His first catch was a 48-yarder when he outran the defensive the last 40 after catching a slant.
His 11-yard grab in the corner of the end zone early in the fourth quarter was more receiver than speedster.
“He is really become a good receiver, a real weapon in our passing game,” Orgeron said. “He is making big-time plays for us.
“We have to find ways to get him the football, especially in the open field. He makes things happen. He has put in the work as a receiver and not just as a return guy.”
When you add his 110 yards of kick and punt returns to his total, Pierce finished with 192 total yards against the No. 15 team in the country.
For the year Pierce has rushed three times for 46 yards, an average of 15.3 a carry. He has 14 catches for 157 yards, an 11.2 average. That’s 11.9 yards every time he touches the ball on offense.
He has been even better with returns. His 28.7 average on punt returns leads the SLC while his 27.2 on kickoffs is second.
“I consider myself an all-purpose player,” Pierce said. “I just want to get the football and try to help us win. I try to get my team going with energy as much as I possibly can. I want to give us a spark.”
Pierce was used sparingly in the spring, making eight catches over the seven games for 125 yards. He made five grabs for a career-high 107 yards and two scores in a win over Nicholls State, when he had a catch-andrun for an 85-yard score.
He also had an 80-yard TD run against Lamar on a jet sweep when he raced by everybody into the open field and the end zone, showing he is in scoring position anywhere on the field.
However, he has had to become more of a receiver since the injury to Cee Jay Powell in the season opener. Powell, who says he hopes to return after the bye week for the Oct. 16 game at Northwestern State, was supposed to be the Cowboys’ deep threat.
“I didn’t have that big of a role in the offense in the spring,” Pierce said. “I was more of just a return guy. I knew I would have to step up my role this season.”
He has done that and more, which no longer makes Pierce a secret weapon.
“We knew what he could do through practices,” Orgeron said. “They all know now. He’s on tape.”
That doesn’t mean they can catch Pierce, which means his role in the offense will only get bigger.