By Matthew Bonnette
Special to College Sports Journal
Editor’s note: This story is courtesy of www.McNeeseSports.com.
BEAUMONT, TX. – McNeese finished off its magical regular season on Saturday night with a 20-14 win over rival Lamar and capped of the school’s fifth undefeated season in school history with a 10-0 mark.
In doing so, head coach Matt Viator tied Bobby Keasler as the school’s all-time winningest coach with 78 victories. And for the first time in school history, the Cowboys had three players rush for 100 yards or more in the same game – Derrick Milton with 138, Ryan Ross 126, Daniel Sams 104.
Second-ranked McNeese (10-0, 9-0) finished with 406 rushing yards in the game while Lamar (5-6, 4-5) was held to 63 rushing yards and 176 total.
Lamar running back and record holder Kade Harrington entered the game with over 2,000 yards rushing and has racked up 200 or more yards in six of the last eight games.
But it was the Cowboys’ defense, who entered ranked No. 2 in the nation in rushing defense, that held Harrington in check as he ran for just 70 yards on 17 carries and did not score a touchdown.
The Cowboys led 17-7 at the half and took a 20-7 lead midway through the fourth quarter after a 31-yard field goal by Jean Breaux. But the game could’ve been sealed much earlier had it not been for turnovers and missed opportunities inside the red zone.
Leading 17-7 with 3:14 to play in the second quarter, field goal holder Shane McCarley mishandled the short snap on a 36-yard field goal attempt and the Cowboys turned the ball over on downs.
And at the buzzer, Breaux sailed a field goal attempt wide right from 29-yards out as the Cowboys went into the break up 17-7.
McNeese seemed well on its way to put the game away early in the third quarter as it marched down the field to the Lamar 2. On the next play, Sams fumbled the ball at the 1 on a fourth-and-short that rolled out of bounds giving Lamar the ball.
The defense held and the Cowboys began another march behind the feet of Ross who on a second-and-8 fumbled the ball at the goal line and Lamar recovered in the endzone for a touchback, halting another scoring opportunity.
Breaux put the Cowboys up 20-7 off a 31-yard field goal with 8:26 to play then forced the Cardinals into their fifth 3-and-out series of the game. But after McNeese was unable to move the ball, Lamar struck for a 32-yard scoring connection from Joe Minden to Devonn Brown to cut the gap to 20-14 with 4:42 to play in the game.
McNeese was able to run the rest of the clock out with the biggest play being a 14-yard Sams pass to Tavarious Battiste on a third-and-10 with just over three minutes to play that extended the Cowboys’ drive. Ross then rushed for gains of 9, 13, 6, and 25 yards that allowed the Cowboys to run out the clock.
Breaux put the Cowboys up 3-0 on a 32-yard field goal just three minutes into the game.
Lamar grabbed a 7-3 lead when Dedrick Garner picked up a David Bush fumble on a punt return and rumbled 66 yards for the score. Bush appeared to have been down before the ball came loose but after a review, the play stood.
McNeese took little time in retaking the lead on its next series, going 75 yards on just three plays in 49 seconds, capped by a 26 yard Ross touchdown run.
Sams then made it 17-7 with on a 32-yard touchdown run with 36 seconds to play in the first quarter.
McNeese pretty much controlled the game.
The Cowboys had 24 first downs to Lamar’s 10, held a 443-176 advantage in total offense, and controlled the clock 39:13 to 20:47.
The Cowboys held the Cardinals to 1 of 12 on third downs and 0 for 2 on fourth downs.
The Cowboys will find out its fate in the FCS playoffs at 10 a.m. on Sunday morning when the bracket is announced on ESPNU.
McNeese is inviting fans to join the team with a free watch party on the second floor of the Jack Doland Field House with doors opening at 9:30 a.m. ESPNU will be doing live cut-ins and will have a live interview with Viator during the one-hour show.