‘Hole’ lot better: Cowboys return home with score to settle with UIW

Jim Gazzolo, Special to the American Press

It wasn’t long ago that Incarnate Word was a punch line for Southland Conference football teams.

After 11 wins and a playoff appearance over the last two seasons nobody is laughing now, especially McNeese State. The last time the teams met, in 2018, the Cardinals pasted McNeese 45-17.

That loss left a lasting impression on the Cowboys who are still around.

“They beat us up pretty good,” said Cowboys quarterback Cody Orgeron. “They have our attention. They are a good program, that is for sure. We respect them.”

McNeese will be returning home six months to the day after Hurricane Laura blew through town. While a lot will be different, including a noon kickoff, a lot will be the same.

“We have had our share of bumps and bruises,” said defensive back Andre Sam. “We just want to go our there and play in front of our fans.

“It will be great to be back home.”

For 19th-ranked McNeese, it will be the second of a seven-game spring season after opting out of the fall. The Cowboys rallied two weeks ago to beat Tarleton State 40-37 in double overtime, scoring 14 points in the final 2:46 to even the score.

“We want to build off that momentum,” Orgeron said. “It’s important that we keep improving.”

For UIW this will be the season opener, having postponed last weekend’s game against Sam Houston State due to the winter storm and related water issues. The Cardinals were supposed to play one game in the fall against Arkansas State in December but that was canceled.

“Incarnate Word is an explosive team,” said Cowboys head coach Frank Wilson. “They have a lot of weapons and can make some big plays.”

One weapon McNeese won’t have to worry about is quarterback Jon Copeland, who as a freshman threw for three touchdowns and ran for another against the Cowboys. He entered the NCAA transfer portal and will be replaced by Mark Torrez, a redshirt junior from Texas-El Paso.

“They did lose a good quarterback but they have a very athletic one who can run and throw the ball coming in,” Wilson said. “He is dangerous. We have to eliminate giving up the big plays and go after the football.”

Backs Kevin Brown and Ameer King are back to lead the UIW running game. They combined to rush for 1,287 yards in 2019 as well as being a part of the passing game.

“Their running game comes right at you,” Wilson said. “Those two guys can catch the ball out of the backfield as well, making them tough to defend.”

McNeese showed off its big-play ability late in its opener, as Orgeron threw for three scores and ran for two more to lead the comeback. He was the team’s leading rusher with 108 yards on 19 carries, but 14-of-34 passing for 170 yards.

He said those numbers will improve.

“We have big-play potential,” Orgeron said. “With more reps we are going to get our timing down and more big plays will come.”

Orgeron was able to find eight receivers, showing depth and options in the passing game. Josh Matthews led the way with three catches.

The game though means more than what’s on the scoreboard, and players know that.

“This game is about our fans,” Sam said. “To get a chance to be back in front of them so soon is going to feel amazing.”

And that is no laughing matter.

FOUR DOWNS

• PLAY DATE: Nothing gets a team ready for a game like already having played one. Most of a club’s improvement comes between the first and second games of a season, getting the rust off in the first one. McNeese has played a game while Incarnate Word has not, postponing its season opener against Sam Houston State due to wintry weather and water issues last weekend. We will see how that plays out today.

• HOME COOKING: McNeese has won its last 15 home openers, a streak good for a seventh-place tie with Montana among Football Championship Subdivision schools. Three of those games have been Southland Conference games. This game, however, will be the first played on the new turf, put in after Hurricanes Laura and Delta. McNeese head coach Frank Wilson calls the turf “sacred ground.”

• STORM WATCH: It will be an emotional return to Cowboy Stadium for McNeese, which will be playing its first game on a new turf. This is a program that has suffered through not one, not two, but three weather disasters over a 178-day stretch. Today also marks the six month anniversary of Hurricane Laura’s arrival, which started the long journey back to playing on campus.

• PICK: McNeese, 31-24.

STADIUM RULES

A list of reminders and items fans will need to know to enter Cowboy Stadium for Saturday’s Incarnate Word-McNeese State football game.

• Due to federal and state COVID-19 guidelines, 25 percent of stadium capacity will be enforced. Available attendance will be 2,800 fans on a first-come, first-serve basis.

• Fans will park in General Admission lots which will open at 8 a.m. and will be on a first-come, first-serve basis. Lots will also serve as baseball parking and fans should be aware of home runs and foul balls in the area.

• Tailgating will not be allowed nor will RVs or overnight parking.

• Stadium gates will open at 10:30 a.m.

• Fans will enter only through main gates.

• A clear-bag policy and face mask check will be enforced.

• A limited selection of concessions and beer will be sold cash only beginning at 11 a.m.

• No outside food or drinks will be allowed.

• No re-entry into the stadium.

• Fans will not be allowed on the field at any time.

• Fans will be allowed to sit on the hills.

• The first seven rows behind the McNeese State players bench and first two rows behind the visitor’s bench will be off limits.

Source: McNeese State

Football returns to Cowboy Stadium this afternoon. The stadium was severely damaged by Hurricane Laura on Aug. 27, forcing the postponement of football season until the spring. The facility has been restored to the point it can be used in the Cowboys’ home season opener against Incarnate Word, six months to the day the Category 4 storm struck Southwest Louisiana.

Rick Hickman / American Press

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