By Matthew Bonnette
Special to College Sports Journal
Editor’s Note: This story is courtesy of www.McNeeseSports.com
LAKE CHARLES, LA. — Daniel Sams threw for a career-high 242 yards and rushed for another 115 while accounting for five touchdowns as the helped lead No. 9/12 McNeese to a 47-27 to outslug Northwestern State in a Southland Conference Homecoming battle.
In accounting for his 357 total offensive yards, the most since Cody Stroud’s 373 at Stephen F. Austin in 2013, Sams set a new McNeese quarterback career record with the fifth 100-yard rushing game of his career, breaking the record held by Kerry Joseph.
McNeese improves to 7-0 on the season and 6-0 in league play while NSU falls to 1-6 and 1-4 in the conference. The win was the 11th straight for the Cowboys over the Demons and the 13th consecutive win at home over their rivals.
“A really, really big win,” said head coach Matt Viator who won his 75th career game and the 51st in conference play, tying the league’s career-record held by Sam Houston State’s Ron Randleman. “I can’t say enough about it. A typical McNeese-Northwestern game. I talked about it to the players all week. I knew they played good coming off a win.”
Playing in a steady light rain that increased in intensity after halftime, the weather didn’t seem to slow either team down as McNeese rolled up 461 total offensive yards while NSU added 400, the most allowed by the Cowboys’ defense all season.
In addition to Sams’ 115 yards rushing, Ryan Ross added 95 yards on 20 carries and two touchdowns and caught four passes for 58 yards.
Tavarious Batiste led the team with six catches (54 yards and a TD) while Kent Shelby made three grabs for a game-high 110 yards and a score, including a 73-yard catch and run that gave the Cowboys a 21-10 lead after the first play of the third quarter.
The beginning of each quarter was somebody’s striking point as each team scored twice to start each frame – NSU in the first and fourth and McNeese in the second and third.
The Demons, fresh off an impressive win over Lamar last week, seemed ready to break the losing streak in Lake Charles that dates all the way back to 1988, when all-American Ed Eagan returned the opening kickoff 97 yards to put the Demons up 7-0 just 13 seconds into the game.
The Cowboys regrouped and after the defense forced the Demons into a 3-and-out in their first offensive possession of the game, Sams orchestrated a 12-play, 58-yard drive that ended with his 1-yard touchdown run that tied the game at 7-7 with 4:22 to play in the first.
Another defensive stand followed when Dominique Hill intercepted a Stephen Rivers pass. That led to a Sams’ 29-yard touchdown strike in the first play of the second quarter to put the Cowboys up 14-7.
NSU’s Chris Moore knocked through a 20-yard field goal with 7:45 to play to close the gap to 14-10 and the two teams traded possessions the rest of the second quarter.
Another first play strike for the Cowboys saw Sams hit Shelby for the 73 yard score as McNeese opened up a 21-10 lead, but the Demons answered right back when backup quarterback Joe Blumenthal sprinted 62 yards on a keeper on NSU’s first play of the third quarter to quickly cut the margin to 21-17.
Another Moore field goal, this time from 44 yards out, cut the McNeese lead to 21-20 with 5:45 to play in the third.
The Cowboys got a break on their next possession when facing a third-and-15, Battiste was interfered with on a pass from Sams that set up a first down. Ross followed with a 23-yard run then a 12-yard pass from Sams to Shelby got the ball to the NSU 20.
Ross then bulled his way for 16 yards and two plays later, ran it in from two yards out for the score. But a missed extra point by Jean Breaux made it 27-20 McNeese with 2:17 to play in the third.
NSU was next up to take advantage of a big penalty when a 15-yard facemask call against the Cowboys set the Demons up with a first down at the McNeese 42. The next play, the first of the fourth quarter, Rivers connected with Tuff McClain on a slant pass that turned into a 42-yard touchdown that tied the game at 27-27.
From there, McNeese and Sams took over.
Sams gave the Cowboys a 34-27 lead following a 52-yard touchdown run with 12:42 to play. Then a failed fake punt by NSU at its own 48 yard line led to a Sams’ 2-yard touchdown pass to Austin Nelson seven plays later as McNeese built a 40-27 lead with 5:25 to play.
Rivers would then be intercepted for the second time of the night, this time by Jermaine Antoine, who returned it 27 yards to the Demons’ 15. Six plays later Ross scored from 1-yard out to make it 47-27.
Rivers finished the game 21 of 37 for 276 yards, two picks and a touchdown. Blumenthal led the Demons on the ground with 77 yards on six carries and a score.
NSU became just the second team this season to rush for 100 yards against the Cowboys as it finished with 105 on 30 carries.
The Cowboys will hit the road next week when they visit Abilene Christian before returning home on Nov. 7 against Sam Houston State.