HAMMOND — If the past two meetings between Southeastern Louisiana University and McNeese State are any indication, Saturday’s Southland Conference opener between the teams could be interesting.
Last season, McNeese State’s Josh Lewis, a former Denham Springs standout, kicked a 52-yard field goal as time ran out to give the Cowboys a 13-10 win at Strawberry Stadium. In 2009, McNeese got a 5-yard touchdown pass from Derrick Fourroux to Richard Connor with 39.7 seconds to play to secure a 36-35 win for the Cowboys, who rallied from an 11-point deficit.
Saturday’s game kicks off at 7 p.m. at Cowboy Stadium, and it’s no secret SLU coach Mike Lucas would like nothing more than to be on the winning end of Saturday’s game.
“Coming out of these last two years against them, it was really tear your guts out because we played hard both times,” Lucas said. “And coming out on the back end of that thing is very, very difficult, and it haunts you during recruiting. It haunts you for 365 days until you play them again. We’ve got to do everything we can as a coaching staff and as a program to go win this football game this week.”
“(It’s) always a tough game when McNeese and Southeastern play,” McNeese coach Matt Viator said.
Southeastern (1-2) and 19th-ranked McNeese (1-1) have both played two quarterbacks, with the SLU relying on the tandem of Brian Young (49 of 87 passing with one interception, 553 yards, TD) and Nathan Stanley (21-37-3, 224 yards, 2 TDs), and McNeese going with Cody Stroud (38-51-1, 444 yards, 2 TDs) and Riley Dodge (13-20-0, 164 yards, TD).
But Lucas said the Lions’ timeshare could change if Young or Stanley get into a groove against the Cowboys.
“Going in this week, the object is not to play quarterbacks evenly,” Lucas said. “The object is to win the football game. So we’re going to go in and see if one has a hot hand, he’s going to roll.”
The Cowboys have generated 608 yards passing this season behind a receiving corps anchored by Darius Carey (13 receptions, 165 yards, TD) and former Central standout Wes Briscoe (6-157, TD).
But Lucas isn’t forgetting McNeese’s ground game, which has put up 225 yards this season, led by Dodge (19-71, 0 TDs) and Andre Anderson (29-61, 2 TDs).
“Stroud is throwing the ball really well and their receiver corps is a little better,” Lucas said. “So we’ve got to go in there with the mentality that it’s not just stopping the run as it has been in the past.”
Meanwhile, SLU is averaging 417 yards per game on offense, led by receivers Brandon Collins (20-172, 2 TDs) and Simmie Yarborough (15-187, TD) and running back Sam Fairley (37-130, TD).
“(They’re) very, very explosive on offense,” Viator said. “I know the three senior wideouts (Collins, Yarborough and Kory Theodore). They have some others, too, but it seems like Simmie’s been doing this for a long time, and Collins and Kory Theodore and those guys. I like their running backs this year. Not only do they have Zeke (Jones) and Fairley, but they’ve added some more guys that they run in their that really contribute as well.”
The Cowboys are giving up 354.5 yards per game, led by free safety Malcolm Bronson (18 tackles) and defensive end Desmund Lighten (17 tackles).
“They’re very fast in their defensive front and at linebacker,” Lucas said. “They’re going to lock you down in man-to-man coverage. We say our best position group is our receivers. We’ve got to win some of those battles.”
SLU is surrendering 360.7 yards per game, led by safety Marice Sutton (21 tackles) and linebacker Tay Alford (20 tackles).
“They’re big up front, and Devan Walker’s one of the better ones in our league,” Viator said. “No. 9 (Frank Bryant) is a new guy there that really gives them two big bodies on the defensive end on those edges that’s really hard to handle.”
“We’re glad we get another opportunity to play at home, and the history we have with Southeastern, it ought to be a good one.”