By Matthew Bonnette
Special to College Sports Journal
Editor’s note: This story is courtesy of McNeese State athletics.
LAKE CHARLES, LA. — First-and-goal at the one-yard line is all that kept McNeese from taking a late fourth quarter lead and a possible win over Sam Houston State in the second round of the FCS playoffs.
But a couple of penalties and two sacks pushed McNeese 33 yards backwards and on the ensuing Bearkat possession, SHSU was able to run out the final 6:06 off the clock to post a 34-29 win over the Cowboys here Saturday night.
McNeese, the No. 4 seed in the playoff field and this year’s Southland Conference champions, suffered its first and only loss of the season while Sam Houston improved to 10-3 on the year and avenged a 27-10 loss to the Cowboys four weeks ago.
The Cowboys pulled to within 34-29 after Daniel Sams connected with Tavorious Battiste on a 43-yard touchdown that came on a third-and-16 play with 11:20 to go in the fourth.
After the Cowboys’ defense forced SHSU (10-3) to punt, Sams found Kent Shelby down the sideline for a 78-yard gain that saw Shelby cut across the field and being knocked out of bounds at the one.
“It’s tough,” said head coach Matt Viator. “These guys are hurting. I’ve been doing this a long time and I don’t think I’ve seen disappointment like I’ve ever seen in the locker room.”
It was a disappointing finish to a great campaign.
“We may not have played our best tonight but we did play good,” Viator said. “I don’t have any regrets with the way we competed tonight. We just came up a little short. There was a play or two there that we could’ve made and it could’ve been different.”
It took a while for the Cowboys’ offense to get going but it was the defense that helped put the Cowboys on the board first when Wallace Scott intercepted a Jared Johnson pass and returned it 21 yards to the Sam 30. The offense was unable to move the ball and Jean Breaux booted a 43-yard field goal to put McNeese up 3-0 with 11:58 to play in the first quarter.
The Cowboys went three-and-out the next two possessions and SHSU took the lead 7-3 after Jeremiah Briscoe connected with LaDarius Brown for a 54-yard score with 4:08 to play in the quarter.
McNeese’s offense got going on the next possession and ended with a 15-yard touchdown strike from Sams to Shelby to make it 10-7 with 39 seconds to play in the first. Two plays later, Briscoe’s pass would be picked off by Jermaine Antoine who returned it to the SHSU 27.
Sams then connected with David Bush on a 27-yard gain on a second-and-18, then found Bush again from four yards out for a touchdown to make it 17-7 with 13:32 to play in the second quarter.
The Bearkats came back with a nine-play drive to cut the margin to 17-14 after a Cory Avery one-yard touchdown with 9:38 to play, then took the lead with 4:30 to play in the half on a 22-yard touchdown reception by Yedidiah Louis to make it 21-17. SHSU tacked on a Tre Honshstein 47-yard field goal as time expired to go up 24-17 at the half.
Honshstein hit a 24-yard field goal six minutes into the third quarter to put the Bearkats up 27-17.
The Cowboys missed out on a great scoring opportunity on the next drive with the ball at the SHSU 27 when Sams’ second-and-nine pass would be intercepted by Carlos Teal at the three-yard line.
But McNeese would get the ball back after forcing Sam into a 3-and-out. Sams would cap an eight-play drive with a three-yard touchdown pass to Zach Hetrick. Breaux’s point after would be blocked but the Cowboys cut the margin to 27-23 with 2:22 to play in the third.
Louis hauled in his second TD catch of the game from 28 yards out to make it 34-23 with 1:21 to play in the quarter and the Cowboys followed with a seven-play drive that ended with Sams’ strike to Battiste to make it 34-29.
McNeese was outgained in total offense 494-372 for the game.
Derrick Milton led the Cowboys with 71 yards rushing while Sams completed 12 of 23 passes for 225 yards, four touchdowns and an interception.
Avery led the Bearkats in rushing with 147 yards and a touchdown as Briscoe completed 19 of 34 passes for 313 yards, an interception and three touchdowns.