McNeese storms back in second half to win at Southern
BATON ROUGE – McNeese couldn’t have asked for a better way to start off a game when Mason Pierce took the opening kickoff 1-yard deep in the end zone and returned it 100-yards for the score and an early Cowboy lead.
It was the first time in 78 years of McNeese football a Cowboy returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown.
But that would be just about all the Cowboys would have to cheer for in the first half as Southern built a 21-10 halftime lead.
But things were different in the second half in all three phases of the game as the Cowboys stormed back in their Cardiac Cowboys way to win 31-24 at Mumford Stadium on Saturday night.
The win kept the Cowboys perfect against members of the SWAC, now 16-0 all-time including 3-0 vs. Southern.
After being out-gained 244-106 in total yards in the first half, the Cowboys held a 157-111 advantage in the second half including holding Southern to just 47 passing yards in the final two quarters.
Head coach Frank Wilson didn’t hold back his emotions when meeting with his team at the half.
“I said ‘Wake your (bleep) up! We’ve got to play. You’re in a fight now. This was big boy ball. It’s time to fight and no more sugarcoating. No more Mr. Nice Guy. Let’s go fight’. We picked up the fight and rose to the occasion. We answered the bell and picked ourselves up off the mat.”
Momentum seemed to have taken a shift right before the end of the second quarter when quarterback Cody Orgeron was hit hard in the head while attempting to slide down. The hit resulted in the first of two targeting penalties and ejections for Southern in the game. Orgeron took a while to get off the field and then headed to the medical tent. Backup Cade Bartlett played the final few minutes of the half and completed 2 of 5 passes for 20 yards.
Orgeron jogged off the field at the half and returned to play for second half action.
“I was a little dizzy and a headache but shook it off,” said Orgeron who finished 8 of 17 for 87 yards and a TD while extending his school record of 176 consecutive pass attempts without throwing an interception. “I knew I had to get back in the game and fight with my team. I wasn’t going to sit on the sideline and watch it. That’s not an option for me.”
“I took that personal,” said DB Corione Harris. “That’s my quarterback. He leads our team. We’ve got to protect him by all means, even if we’re not on the same side of the field.”
That seemed to carry into the first possession of the third quarter when McNeese’s Jarrius Wallace intercepted a Ladarius Skelton pass at the Jaguar 47 and returned it 21 yards to the 26. A 15-yard penalty was tacked on for a targeting against Southern that put the ball at the 13.
On the first play from scrimmage, McNeese’s Stephon Huderson burst up the middle for a 13-yard touchdown, closing the gap to 21-17.
“He’s our leader,” said Wilson about Ogeron. “When he took that shot, it lit a fire in us and we went into a protective mode to be able to fight for our quarterback. I think it motivated them. I knew what Cody’s answer was going to be about his ability to go back in the game so I had to hear it from the doctors. When they cleared him to play, it sparked us. It woke us up to go out and fight for our team.”
The Cowboy defense held strong on the next possession, forcing Southern to punt, turning it into three points after a Jacob Abel 25-yard field goal to pull McNeese to within 21-20 with 6:43 to play in the third quarter.
Special teams came up big again when Tahj Samuel blocked a Martell Fontenot punt and the Cowboys took over at the Southern 47.
Huderson, who recorded his first 100-yard rushing game as a Cowboy with 111 yards, opened the drive with a 17-yard run. Then facing a third-and-6 at the 26, Orgeron escaped two Jaguar players in the backfield to avoid a sack, rolled to his right and found Jamal Pettigrew on the sideline 12 yards down the field for the first down. Eight plays later Orgeron connected with Josh Matthews on a 3-yard touchdown pass then connected with Pierce on the two-point conversion to give the Cowboys a 28-21 lead with 12:49 to play.
McNeese defense got another turnover on the next Southern possession when Skelton’s attempt to lateral the ball was out of reach of his pitch man and Harris pounced on the live ball for the fumble recovery.
“I never heard a whistle blow and we’re always coached to play until you hear a whistle,” said Harris who finished the game with six tackles, a sack, two tackles for a loss, and a fumble recovery.
A 27-yard field goal by Abel made it a 31-21 lead with 7:59 to play. Southern answered with a field goal of its own to cut the margin to 31-24, but the Cowboys recovered the on-side kick and were able to run out the clock for the win.
The Cowboys will open up Southland Conference play next Saturday at Incarnate Word. Kick-off is set for 11 a.m.
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