McNeese wraps up season at Sam Houston State
Jim Gazzolo, Special for the American Press
It is final exam time for the spring semester and McNeese State has saved its toughest test for last.
The improving Cowboys, who just over a month ago were still looking lost, will try to finish this spring fling on a three-game win streak. In doing so they would upset their second consecutive nationally ranked foe.
If they can do that, McNeese (3-3, 2-3 in Southland Conference) will finish the shortened season with a winning record.
“That is not what I’m concerned about,” said head coach Frank Wilson. “We are concerned with us and how we play.”
For the last two games that has been pretty good.
Wins over Northwestern State and 13th-ranked Nicholls State have shown the Cowboys can play with anybody else. But this final test today will be their biggest, and we will find out how far this team has come, and just as importantly how far it has to go.
McNeese travels to Huntsville, Texas, to play Sam Houston State for a 4 p.m. kickoff against the No. 5 Bearkats, who have become a national power over the last decade.
At 4-0 Sam Houston would lock up a share of the league title with a win. But its season likely comes down to a game at Incarnate Word the following weekend.
The Cowboys’ season ends tonight either way. Yet a second consecutive win over a ranked team would send a message to all that McNeese is a contender this fall.
“Spring, you want to win every game, but you also have to see the bigger picture and that is in the fall,” said quarterback Cody Orgeron. “We want to be ready to go from the first day of practice.”
Before that, McNeese has to contend with a good football team.
The Bearkats are the top scoring club in the nation, averaging 50 points a game. They are also the top defensive team in the conference allowing 19.5 points per game.
“That’s a pretty good combination to have,” Wilson said. “They are a complete team. They have as much talent as anybody.”
Last week, however, the Cowboys showed they are not afraid of big offenses. They slowed down a Nicholls team that was leading the country in points per game at 53, holding the Colonels 22 below that average in a 43-31 win.
“We are up for any challenge,” said defensive lineman Mason Kinsey. “We have a good defense.”
Ramon Jefferson leads the Bearkats running attack with 345 yards. The transfer from Maine is second in the league at 86.3 yards a game and has one touchdown.
“He is a very good back and we are going to have to tackle him well,” Wilson said.
Quarterback Eric Schmid is averaging 362.3 yards a game through the air while connecting on 61.3 percent of his passes (87-142). He has 12 touchdowns and five interceptions.
He has a trio of receivers to throw to, led by Jequez Ezzard, who has 366 yards and five touchdowns on 10 catches.
“Their receivers can flat out run,” Wilson said. “We have to keep them in front of us and not let them get over the top.”
Isaiah Chambers, who leads the league in sacks at 6.5, hopes to put pressure on Schmid. It’s a defense that is improving with each game.
As is the McNeese offense, which has found its passing game. Led by Orgeron, the Cowboys have thrown for 660 yards over the last two games.
“We have to find a way to generate big plays,” Wilson said. “I haven’t found a weak spot on their defense.”
The Cowboys have struggled to keeping running backs healthy. Freshman Josh Parker got his first start against Nicholls while Deonta McMahon returned from injury to rush for 111 yards on 11 carries, including a 67-yard TD scamper.