Cowboys have first to themselves

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Lance Guidry doesn’t care how his team wins, just as long as it wins.

It wasn’t pretty for the McNeese State head coach and his squad, but the Cowboys vaulted themselves back to the top of the Southland Conference standings with a 23-21 win over Central Arkansas on homecoming Saturday night.

The McNeese (6-2, 5-1 SLC) win — combined with Nicholls State beating Incarnate Word earlier in the day — means the Cowboys are alone at the top of the SLC standings with four teams one game behind.

"Solid team win," Guidry said. "I thought it was a win just like Nicholls. Both sides of the ball I thought played well enough, not perfect. Especially on defense."

Cody Orgeron’s first drive as starting quarterback went as well as could be expected. The Cowboys were aided by UCA when — as McNeese attempted a field goal — the Bears were called for a personal foul. That penalty gave McNeese a first down. The Cowboys took advantage of the UCA (5-3, 4-2) mistake and capped the drive with a1one-yard David Hamm touchdown run.

The team’s motto leading into the game was, "Weather the storm," and the Cowboys had to do that right after scoring.

On UCA’s first offense play from scrimmage, quarterback Luke Hales found wide receiver Jakari Dillard streaking past two Cowboys defensive backs for a 75-yard touchdown pass. The extra point tied the score at seven.

But, in a first quarter that saw the teams exchange blows, McNeese delivered the next one when Ben Jones ran off a 73-yard kick return. Four plays later, Orgeron used his feet to get McNeese in the end zone, running for a 16-yard score to put the Cowboys back up by a touchdown.

Two Gunnar Raborn field goals gave McNeese a 20-7 lead before UCA responded late in the second quarter. Hales hit Brandon Myers for a 24-yard touchdown to bring the Bears within 20-14.

Late in the first half, McNeese had to avoid disaster to get to halftime up by six. Kick returner Cyron Sutton tried to field a ball deep in Cowboy territory and with several UCA players surrounding him. He could not secure the ball and the Bears recovered it. Fortunately for McNeese, the DWA (Defense With Attitude) stepped up, as Colby Burton intercepted Hales in the end zone.

"I ran on the field and told the defense, ‘I don’t know who’s going to make the play, but somebody’s about to make a game-changing play,’" Burton said. "I seen the ball and grabbed it."

Scoring was scarce in the second half, with UCA taking advantage of a Ryan Ross fumble. The Bears marched down the field via the ground game and Carlos Blackman scored on a 39-yard touchdown run. The extra point gave UCA a 21-20 lead.

On the next drive, McNeese responded with its best offensive drive of the second half. The Cowboys got down to the UCA 4-yard line, but a holding penalty pushed them back. Eventually, McNeese settled for a 24-yard Raborn field goal.

That turned out to be the winning kick.

"Last week I went 1-for-2," Raborn said. "I hadn’t really been hitting the ball like how I usually do. This week I just focused on contact and keeping my head straight down."

The McNeese defense — which held UCA to a season-low 21 points and 0-for-10 on third downs — stood tall in the second half. When the Cowboys got the ball back on offense with 2:19 left and UCA had all three timeouts, they needed to bail the defense out.

And they did, running the ball five times. Aided by an offside penalty on third down, the Cowboys were able to run one more play and the clock ran out.

"We most definitely got the target on our backs," linebacker B.J. Blunt said. "Playing big games like this, this is what we like to do. Playing games that you people out, it’s fun. But it’s nothing like a dog fight and coming out with the win."

McNeese State 23, Central Arkansas 21

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