McNeese stays unbeaten in league play after 17-10 win over SFA

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LAKE CHARLES – McNeese built a 17-0 third quarter lead over Stephen F. Austin during a steady rain in Saturday night’s Southland Conference matchup, then it was up to the defense to secure the win as the 10th-ranked Cowboys remained unbeaten in league play with a 17-10 win.

McNeese improved its record to 4-1 overall and is the only remaining unbeaten team in the Southland Conference, now at 3-0. SFA fell to 1-3 and 1-2 in the league.

Senior running back David Hamm scored on a 55-yard run just 2 1/2 minutes into the game to put the Cowboys up 7-0 and it looked like that offensive attack McNeese has been waiting for was in the works.

But a couple of fumbles and missed opportunities kept the Cowboys from opening the game up further.

“Both sides fumbled it a bit,” said head coach Lance Guidry. “They had a hard time handling it as well. It was raining and was very humid out there, but still, you have to have two hands on the ball and secure it. But with the weather like it was, and hot, I imagine it’s difficult to hang on.”

Hamm led the all rushers with 69 yards on eight carries and an 8.6 yards per carry average. As a team, McNeese rolled up 174 of its 257 total offensive yards on the ground. Defensively, the Cowboys held the Lumberjacks to just 188 offensive yards, the least amount allowed on the season.

Quarterback James Tabary connected with Parker Orgeron on a 6-yard touchdown pass with 5:05 to play in the first quarter to make it a 14-0 lead then after a scoreless second quarter, Gunnar Raborn kicked through a 29-yard field goal with 3:13 to play to make it a 17-0 game.

The Lumberjacks, who were held scoreless by the Cowboys in the last seven quarters (McNeese defeated SFA 35-0 last season), snapped the scoreless streak with 10:04 to play in the game when Terian Goree found Foster Sawyer for a 5-yard score. That was set up on a Ryan Ross fumble at the McNeese 5-yard line.

On the ensuing kickoff, the Lumberjacks recovered an onside kick, and 11 plays later, cut the margin to 17-10 after a 41-yard field goal by Storm Ruiz. But that could’ve been more had it not been for the play of Blunt, who on a 2nd-and-16 at the McNeese 25, blasted through the line for his second quarterback sack of the night and backing up the Lumberjacks further away from the end zone.

The Cowboys would have to punt the ball away on their next possession, but on a 4th-and-long, Jovon Burris intercepted the SFA pass at midfield to pretty much seal the game.

“To be honest, this is kind of the moment we’ve been waiting on,” said Blunt about the game being put into the defense’s hands. “Our defense thrives on moments in tight situations. Being in a situation like that put us back on our heels. We were up 17-0 for most of the game so we were kind of ‘lax. A turnover like that put us back on our toes.”

Blunt ended the night with 12 tackles, two sacks, 5 ½ tackles for loss and a fumble recovery.

“We did enough to win,” said Guidry. “That’s the main thing. We’re going on to the next week. We put our third down payment down on our ring, is what we call it. We’re going for our fourth one next week and then we have an open week.”

Tabary completed 11 of 20 passes for 78 yards and a touchdown with his top target being Austin Nelson who brought in three passes for 42 yards.

Sawyer completed 24 of 40 passes for 142 yards with a touchdown and an interception and was sacked three times by the Cowboys.

The Lumberjacks managed to rush for just 46 yards in the game and held to a 1.5 yards per carry average despite the Cowboys being without three of their top defensive ends.

“At one point, we had to move a tackle (Camron Peterson) to the end spot because we were so thin there,” said Guidry. “But (Nate) Livings could’ve played tonight if we really needed him. He should be back this week.”

Florida Gator transfer Keivonnis Davis returned home to Florida for a family emergency while Tyrique Gibson and Harris Tafah did not play due to mild injuries sustained at BYU. The Cowboys lost Marcus Foster for the season earlier in the year to a knee injury.

The win snapped a five-game streak where the visiting team has won in the series as the Cowboys’ last victory at home of SFA came in the 2012 season.

McNeese returns to action next Saturday when it hosts Abilene Christian before an Oct. 13 open date.

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