Scooter Hobbs (American Press)

Well, Cowboys, look at it this way.

Admission was free to the long-awaited return of McNeese to Cowboy Stadium.

And the football-starved fans got just about what they paid for.

Whatever the going rate for a Grand Buzz Kill is, that's what Lake Charles and McNeese fans got for their comp tickets Saturday afternoon.

So much for the Conquering Comeback Cowboys striding home for a new post-hurricane beginning, damn the pandemic, full speed ahead with Frank Wilson at the helm.

Instead …

Incarnate Word 48, McNeese 20.

No comeback this time.

So far spring football for McNeese is way overrated — the Cowboys much prefer the winter, polar-vortex version they opened the season in with such promise at Tarleton State.

We don't know what the bar is for the comebacks like that Cowboys' miracle finish two weeks ago, the gutsy finish that got everybody so excited for this weekend.

But apparently the limit on such mischief is somewhere well south of a 31-3 halftime deficit, which was basically the egg the Cowboys laid in the first half of their return.

Maybe it was too easy to assume that McNeese football would just pick up where it left off in the final 4 minutes of that frozen road comeback opener.

Nada.

It was one of the more disappointing flops.

But at least the bright and shiny new turf in Cowboys Stadium looked marvelous. It was easy to forget what it looked like in the wake of Miss Laura.

The game?

Not so much.

The rebirth of the Cowboys after all their well-documented grit and resilience will have to wait.

The gorgeous turf was a mirage.

Either Incarnate Word is the new standard in the Football Championship Subdivision or this game would have been better suited to be played in the gunk and slime and goop of what this field looked like exactly six months ago.

It was flat-ugly football for McNeese.

Hard to watch, in fact.

Throw in a combined 23 penalties (and seemingly almost as many "official replay reviews," some long enough to get pizza delivered) and it turned into a 3-hour, 43-minute torture session.

But it didn't end there. There was even a minor dust-up postgame when something beyond good-game pleasantries were exchanged between Wilson and UIW coach Eric Morris. Wilson apparently didn't appreciate the final touchdown the Cardinals tacked on with 33 seconds to play, although the Cowboys kind of brought that on themselves with a fourth-down timeout moments later.

So forget the new turf — and, by the way, did I mention that it looks spectacular?

A better backdrop for whatever was happening Saturday — still not sure it was football, spring or otherwise — was the former crown jewel of Cowboy Stadium, the now boarded-up and uninhabitable three-story press and club suite box that towers above the place.

It will teeter there, held together by spit and plywood until after the season when it will be demolished.

The football team doesn't have that luxury.

They have another game next week and it turns out they've got a lot of quick repairs to make before hitting the road for Southeastern Louisiana.

You start with an offensive line that was a sore spot even in victory.

It isn't so much a work in progress as it is a unit begging for reinforcements, which reportedly are on the way for the fall season.

McNeese worked around it against Tarleton.

But you throw in an epidemic of blown secondary coverages and hapless tackling and the big plays start mounting up. Or maybe it was helpless tackling. It was hard to put a finger on it. Or an arm tackle, of which many were tried.

Either way McNeese gave up 518 yards, 309 in the air to a man-child of a freshman quarterback in Cameron Ward.

The best McNeese tackle was a yard out of bounds — 15 yards — although the targeting call that originally was tacked on to it was overturned it after cooler heads reviewed it on tape (and, who knows? Possibly ordered another pizza).

But the Cardinals also averaged 100 yards per kickoff return (1) … which is also six points per attempt, if you're keeping score at home.

So McNeese special teams got involved in the frustrating day as well.

Somehow McNeese had 373 yards offense, although I swear I don't recall most of them.

That's the way it can go when most of your yards, by necessity, seem to be improvised.

In this off-brand version of the hurry-up, gutsy quarterback Cody Orgeron either runs for his life to get a throw off or scrambles for the unplanned runs.

He's led the Cowboys in rushing both games, little of it according to the play call, and that can't continue.

But most of what we've heard about this team while it was out of sight for so long was how resilient it has been.

That is about to get tested in the coming weeks.

l

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU

athletics. Email him at

shobbs@americanpress.com

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