THIBODAUX — McNeese State kept its playoff hopes alive Saturday afternoon after it came up with big play after big play in a 42-10 win over Nicholls State at John L. Guidry Stadium.
The win was the second straight by McNeese as it improved to 6-3 on the season and evened its record at 3-3 in Southland Conference play. Nicholls dropped its 12th straight conference game and fell to 1-7 on the year and 0-5 in the league.
McNeese led 21-3 at the half but pulled off some big defensive stands in the third quarter that helped ignite the offense.
“It’s a really good win for us,” said McNeese coach Matt Viator. “I thought we made some really good plays and played really well. For the exception of that tipped ball interception, I thought the offense did a nice job. Defensively, the guys played really hard and made some great plays.”
McNeese entered the game with a plus-12 margin in the turnover department and it went up to plus-15 after the Cowboys picked off four passes — the last coming on the last play of the game.
The Cowboys racked up 550 yards of offense, including 276 on the ground.
Quarterback Cody Stroud completed 17 of 28 passes for 274 yards with one interception — just his fourth of the season. He also threw for three touchdowns, giving him six in the last two games.
Running back Kelvin Bennett ran the ball just eight times in mop-up duty but led the team with 94 yards, including a 74-yard touchdown trot that put the Cowboys up 42-10 late in the fourth quarter. Javaris Murray added 82 yards on 10 carries while Champlain Babin ran for 42 yards on nine carries.
Darius Carey became the first Cowboy of the season to top the 100-yard receiving mark when he caught six passes for 125 yards with a touchdown.
Nicholls finished with 375 yards of total offense — 265 passing and 110 rushing.
Colonels quarterback Landry Klann completed 18 of 25 passes for 177 yards and two interceptions.
The Cowboys opened the scoring on their first possession of the game with the first play of the contest being a 50-yard pass from Stroud to Carey. Two plays later, Stroud hit Murray from five yards out to put McNeese up 7-0 just 2:26 into the game. The lead increased to 14-0 with 10:09 to play in the second quarter when Marcus Wiltz ran a fourth-and-goal in from the 1-yard line.
Nicholls got on the board off a 27-yard field goal from Andrew Dolan to make it 14-3 with 6:03 to play in the half. After the Cowboys’ defense halted the Nicholls offense late in the quarter, McNeese drove 48 yards in 57 seconds, topped off by a 17-yard strike from Stroud to Ernest Celestie to give the Cowboys a 21-3 at the half.
The Colonels moved the ball into McNese territory on their first drive of the third quarter and facing second-and-14 at the Cowboys 28, McNeese defensive tackle Pat Williams would sack Klann for a 10-yard loss, pushing the ball back to the 38. On the next play, linebacker Bo Brown would get his first career interception at the 24.
The Cowboys defense would come up with another big stop on the Colonels next possession when Brent Spikes stuffed Nicholls running back Marcus Washington on a third-and-1 to force a punt and after Stroud’s tipped pass was picked off on McNeese’s ensuing possession, then Ryan Bronson picked off a Klann pass at the 11.
Six plays later, Stroud hit Carey on a 32-yard line-of-scrimmage to endzone strike to put McNeese up 28-3 with 1:31 to play in the third quarter.
Nicholls would go three-and-out on its next possession and that led to a McNeese 10-play, 71-yard scoring drive that ended with a 7-yard Kenny Brown run to make the score 35-3 with 10:29 to play.
Nicholls got in the endzone for the only time of the game on a 10-yard Dalton Hillard rush with 2:53 to play.