Cardiac Cowboys revived: Tarleton St. victory ranks among best in team history, double-overtime victory reminiscent of great Keasler-era comebacks

Jim Gazzolo, Special to the American Press

As Cody Orgeron dashed 19 yards toward the end zone last weekend, it brought back memories of another McNeese State quarterback.

Orgeron’s run finished a surprising comeback in the season opener against Tarleton State. It was just like the days when Kerry Joseph did much the same for McNeese during the 1990s, when he and his teammates earned the nickname “The Cardiac Cowboys.”

However, this one was different.

Joseph and crew earned their stripes not by one great comeback, but rather a series of late-game rallies.

“That group had a knack for winning games at the end,” said former McNeese head coach Bobby Keasler.

He should know. He coached that group of players who rallied all the way to the Division I-AA national semifinals in 1995.

“It was never one big comeback,” Keasler said. “We had a lot of games where we scored late to win, but nothing like what this team did.”

Keasler does recall a comeback at Sam Houston State, when the Cowboys rallied from an 15-point deficit to win in 1993. It was that game that earned them their moniker.

“We felt like every ballgame we went into we were going to win,” Keasler said. “We had some very good players who refused to quit. That made the biggest difference.”

Those players gave McNeese a comeback playoff win over William & Mary, 30-28, as the Cowboys scored in the fourth quarter.

Keasler would even work that into his weekly lunch talk with boosters.

“I told them not to leave too quick because you never know how it would end with this group,” he said.

More often than not it ended with Joseph making a big play when needed. He would use his arm or legs to make the big score. One time he even punted the football to turn the tide.

“There was this game, I think against Delaware, where he punted the football 60 yards and that was the key play,” said former Sports Information Director Louis Bonnette, who has witnessed all sorts of games at McNeese since 1966.

One special comeback he recalls was in the inaugural Independence Bowl in 1976. Fullback Oliver Hadnot capped a wild week by scoring on a 25-yard touchdown run with 45 seconds remaining as McNeese upset heavily favored Tulsa 20-16.

McNeese was forced to play that game with 16 seniors, 10 of whom were considered in their fifth year by the NCAA which made them ineligible for the game at the time. Anther group missed the game for disciplinary reasons.

“The Southland Conference didn’t want us to play,” Bonnette said. “They wanted Louisiana Tech to play since we didn’t have those players. But Tech was the runner-up so our coach at the time, Jack Dolan, said we were going no matter what.”

It was the first of three trips the Cowboys would make to the bowl game over the first five years of its existence.

However, Bonnette recalls some leads blown late in games.

“I remember a lot of games where we lost in the last minute too,” Bonnette said. “But I can’t recall anything like what happened the other night.

“Those three minutes and overtimes were as exciting as any I have seen.”

What happened in those final 3 minutes of regulation against Tarleton State was stunning.

Down 31-17 and struggling, the Cowboys first had to overcome a turnover with just over 4 minutes left. They scored twice in the final 2:46, the second TD coming after recovering an onside kick, just to send the game into overtime.

Orgeron threw for one score and ran for another to set up the extra periods. He then won it with his legs, completing the unthinkable.

“It shows the character of this football team,” current McNeese head coach Frank Wilson said. “We are never going to quit.”

Wilson even told the team just what it had to do.

“Once we went down 14 and we threw a pick inside 4 minutes, we gathered our team on the sidelines and talked to them about what’s next. Here is what’s next: we’re going to stuff their (butts), we’re going to get the ball back and score. After we score, we’re going to get an onside kick and we’ll score again and we’re going to win this football game,” he said on “The Jordy Culotta” radio show last Tuesday.

And that is exactly what happened.

As for the overtimes, the McNeese defense dominated and the Cowboys walked away with a 40-37 double-OT thriller.

While it may not make this group the next Cardiac Cowboys, for one night this did link the 2021 spring team with some of those from the past.

“It was great to see them out there playing and to see them win,” Keasler said. “It may not feel like football season, but with what we have been through it is great to be able to watch them.”

Even if they cause your heart to skip a beat now and then, just like some of the games from the old days.Before there was Cody Orgeron rallying McNeese State to one of the most memorable victories in school history, there was Kerry Joseph. The McNeese Hall of Fame quarterback was responsible for engineering his fair share of come-from-behind wins in the early 1990s.

Special to the American PressQuarterback Cody Orgeron led McNeese to a come-frombehind victory reminiscent of those by Kerry Joseph.

Special to the American PressMcNeese knew is was never out of the game with Hall of Fame quarterback Kerry Joseph on the field.

Special to the American Press

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