Time to turn it around, Cowboys hope to repeat spring success against Demons

Published 12:00 pm Saturday, October 16, 2021

Hoping history can repeat itself, McNeese State looks to reboot its football season after an open week.

In the spring, the Cowboys flipped their season around starting with a trip to Turpin Stadium in Natchitoches. McNeese beat Northwestern State 21-7 as part of a second-half surge that saw the Cowboys win two of their last three games.

At 1-4, 0-2 in the Southland Conference, the Cowboys are in need of the same type of run.

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“We were able to use this game in the spring to get some momentum,” said McNeese head coach Frank Wilson. “We are in the same spot and hope to do it again.”

The Demons are in a similar spot, bringing a 1-4 record. The big difference, Northwestern State has a conference win, beating Houston Baptist 21-17 last week to even its SLC mark at 1-1.

It is also the renewal a the longest running rivalry for both teams, as this is the 71st meeting dating to 1951. McNeese leads the series 48-21-1, having won 14 of the last 15 meetings.

“For those guys who have been here — coaches and players — they understand the rivalry,” said Demons head coach Brad Laird. “The newcomers, the freshmen who don’t, they’ll figure that out this week. It’s going to be a great game and a great atmosphere.”

The teams will meet again to end the season on Nov. 20 in Lake Charles.

“Right now we are just seeking our first conference victory,” Wilson said. “This is a rivalry that goes back years so it’s important to us.”

The Cowboys will be looking for better starts. They have been outscored 104-33 in the first half of games despite scoring the first touchdown on three occasions.

“We have changed some of the things we are doing,” Wilson said, not elaborating on what those changes are. “We have been able to jump ahead but we have to find ways to sustain that.”

The last time the teams met, McNeese’s defense led the way holding the Demons to 33 yards on the ground. All-American defensive end Isaiah Chambers recorded three sacks on a trio of quarterbacks.

The Cowboys also recored two interceptions.

McNeese will face two quarterbacks this week. Kaleb Fletcher, who threw for 171 yards against the Cowboys in the spring, and Zachary Clement (122) will split time.

“We want to get after whichever quarterback is in the game,” said McNeese linebacker Kordell Williams. “They are different but our plan is going to be the same, keep them in the pocket and hit them.”

Williams is second in the Southland and 24th in the nation with 50 total tackles. He had 17 in McNeese’s last game against Southeastern Louisiana, earning him SLC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

“We have simplified some of the things we are doing to help in our communications,” Williams said. “We just want to put our cleats in the ground and make plays.”

The offense found its groove in the spring against the Demons as quarterback Cody Orgeron threw for 309 yards and two touchdowns. With Stephon Henderson out nursing a leg injury, junior Deonta McMahon will start at running back.

Holding on to the football will be key as the Demons have forced 11 turnovers, seven of those being fumbles. Linebacker Jared Pedraza leads the nation with three recoveries. That skill has found its way across the NSU defense, which has helped the Demons level their turnover margin on the season.

“(Defensive coordinator) Coach (Mike) Lucas puts us in position to make plays,” Pedraza said. “(Recovering fumbles) is just hustle. I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. If you do that, plays will come to you. Sometimes it’s the luck of the draw, but if I see a ball there, I’m going to do whatever I have to do to get it.”