McNeese State coach Matt Viator admitted his lengthy coaching background hadn’t quite prepared him to deal with his recent quandary.
Between polishing off an undefeated run to the Southland Conference championship and embarking on postseason play, the Cowboys have played just twice in a month.
“It’s good to be rested, but it’s not good if you’re not executing and not sharp,” said Viator, the Southland Coach of the Year. “I don’t have the formula. This is different. I’ve never been in a situation like this. I just hope we did the right things.”
When No. 4 McNeese State (10-0) begins Football Championship Subdivision second-round play at 6 p.m. Saturday against visiting Sam Houston State (9-3), the Cowboys will be out to prove they can handle an opening-round bye and defeat the Bearkats for a second time this season.
McNeese has enjoyed a bit of a reprieve from the grind of its regular-season schedule.
Since a Nov. 7 victory over Sam Houston — a 27-10 verdict — McNeese enjoyed a scheduled open date before closing out its regular season with 20-14 victory at Lamar.
With their top-four seed, the Cowboys received a bye; the Bearkats rallied for a 42-39 home victory over Southern Utah.
“At this time of the year, everybody’s going to have a wrinkle or two,” Viator said. “You’re kind of who you are. We want to do what we do and, if that’s not good enough, then that’s fine.”
Sam Houston, which knocked fellow Southland member Southeastern Louisiana out of the 2014 playoffs, has its sights set on doing the same against McNeese.
McNeese quarterback Daniel Sams’ 6-yard TD pass to Kent Shelby gave the Cowboys the lead for good right before halftime in the teams’ first meeting. All-Southland kicker Jean Breaux extended that margin to 20-10 with a pair of field goals before McNeese put the game away with 5:11 to go on Ryan Ross’ 20-yard TD run.
“I thought in our first game they played really well,” Sam Houston coach K.C. Keeler said of McNeese. “They took that conference championship. We’re excited to play them again, because we felt like we didn’t play our best football game for whatever reason.”
Sam Houston could be in better shape personnel-wise than in its previous meeting with McNeese. Starting running back Jalen Overstreet and receiver LaDarius Brown were suspended because of a violation of team rules.
The Bearkats lost the services of Overstreet and fellow running back Cory Avery, a first-team All-Southland selection, against Southern Utah along with starting quarterback Jared Johnson, the league’s top offensive player.
Keeler said all of those players practiced earlier in the week, but their playing status would be determined by game time.
“This is a very deep team — as deep as I’ve ever had,” Keeler said. “We expect guys to go in and play, given the opportunity.”
Sam Houston will match its the top-rated offense in the Southland (43.7 points and 547 yards per game) against McNeese’s top-rated defense, which has allowed 11.1 points and 281 yards per outing.
The Cowboys are led by the league’s defensive player of the year: Safety Walter Scott of West Feliciana has 49 tackles and 4½ tackles for loss.
“We have to do things the best way we know how,” Viator said. “There’s a fine line between being rested but still being rusty.”