McNeese Cowboys build big lead then hold on for 44-24 win over NSU

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LAKE CHARLES – McNeese built a 37-3 third quarter lead on Northwestern State before the Demons barreled back to make it a game at 37-24 late in the fourth, but a 6-yard David Hamm touchdown run with 2:06 left closed the lid on a 44-24 Southland Conference win for the Cowboys on Saturday night and capping a perfect 5-0 regular season home slate as 20 seniors bid farewell to The Hole.

The win kept the 18th-ranked Cowboys playoff hopes alive as they improved to 8-2 on the season and 6-2 in league play. Northwestern State saw its two-game winning streak come to an end as it falls to 3-7 overall and 3-5 in the conference.

“We had to play all the way to the end,” said head coach Lance Guidry. “For a while it looked like we were going to blow them out and they battled back. Credit to them. But they’ve been playing hard against everybody whether it’s Sam Houston or UCA. They’ve been in a lot of ballgames. We got up a bunch of points and they came roaring back.”

McNeese’s No. 1 ranked rushing defense in the FCS kept its grip on the Demons’ running game throughout the night, holding them to 50 yards on 24 carries for a 2.1 per carry average.

However, the Demons got a school-record performance by quarterback Clay Holgorsen who ignited an NSU offense with a record-breaking 381 passing yards, 237 of those in a 21-point second half. That yardage broke legendary quarterback Bobby Hebert’s mark. The Demons scored 21 unanswered points before Hamm’s touchdown run late ended the momentum.

“Giving up 24 points in college football is still good in today’s game,” said Guidry about the most points allowed in Cowboy Stadium this season. “A win’s a win. That’s all that matters.”

McNeese quarterback James Tabary put up some good numbers as well behind center, completing 17 of 28 passes for 285 yards and three touchdowns, and for the third straight game and fifth out of the last six, did not throw an interception.

The running game was just as stout, picking up 179 yards with 80 of those coming from Hamm while wide receiver Tavarious Battiste added 68 rushing yards and a score on three end-around plays.

NSU took an early 3-0 lead following a 38-yard field goal by Eric Piccione with 7:08 to play in the first quarter.

The first of Tabary’s touchdown passes followed when he connected with Darious Crawley for a 14-yard touchdown score to put McNeese up 7-3 with 4:27 to play.

On the ensuing kickoff, Kyree McLean recovered a loose ball at the 12-yard line after it hit Demon returner Xavier Bell on a wild bounce, and four plays later, Gunnar Raborn booted through a 29-yard field goal to make it a 10-3 game just 20 seconds later.

The play of the game occurred a little over a minute later when after the McNeese squibbed kickoff was corralled by a front man at the 50 for the Demons and NSU drove to the McNeese 15, Trent Jackson recovered a fumble and returned it 85 yards for a touchdown to put the Cowboys up 17-3. It was the fourth-longest fumble return for a touchdown in school history.

Battiste made it a 24-3 lead with 5:20 to play in the second quarter on a 46-yard end-around run.

McNeese got one more score in the second half when Tabary connected with Parker Orgeron who brought the ball in via a one-handed grab on a dive in the endzone from 16-yards out to make it 30-3 with 11 seconds to play in the half.

The lead built to 37-3 following a 14-yard Lawayne Ross touchdown catch three minutes into the third quarter.

That’s when things started to turn the Demons’ way.

A 33-yard punt return by Jaylen Watson to the McNeese 27 set up a 4-yard touchdown pass from Holgerson to Cameron Lazare to cut the margin to 37-10 with 48 seconds to play in the third quarter.

A blocked punt recovered at the McNeese 37 followed and after a 36-yard Holgerson completion to Jared West put the ball at the 1, Kalen Meggs reeled in a 1-yard toss to make it 37-17 with 12:40 to play.

The Demons added their final score on a 30-yard Holgerson to Marquisian Chapman catch and run touchdown to make it 37-24 before Hamm and Tabary took over on the following drive, ending with a 6-yard Hamm touchdown jolt to make it 44-24.

McNeese finished the night with 478 yards of offense while NSU rolled to 431.

The win was the 13th straight for the Cowboys over the Demons in the series and the 14th consecutive win over NSU at home.

Kent Shelby led all McNeese receivers with six catches for 100 yards.

The Cowboys will close out the regular season next Saturday night at Lamar.

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