Nicholls hits 32-yard FG as time expires to beat McNeese, 37-35

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THIBODAUX – Nicholls kicker Lorran Fonseca’s 32-yard field goal as time expired gave his Colonels a stunning 37-35 Southland Conference win over McNeese here Thursday night in the season opener for both teams.

McNeese took a 35-34 lead with 3:02 to play when wide receiver Nick Edwards took an end-around hand off from quarterback James Tabary and sprinted 10 yards for the score. The 2-point conversion failed and McNeese held a 1-point lead.

On the ensuing kickoff, Colonels’ return man Tuskani Figaro returned the kick 25 yards to set up Nicholls at its own 32-yard line. A pass interference called against McNeese on a first down play at the 33-yard line set the Colonels up at the McNeese 21. Two plays later, Fonseca split the uprights with the game winner.

McNeese led 9-7 at the half but could’ve put the game away in the first 30 minutes. Five times the Cowboys had a first-down-and-10 at the Nicholls 16 yard line or closer and came away with just nine points.

“We really should’ve had this game won at the half,” said head coach Lance Guidry. “We didn’t convert in the red zone and we had too many penalties.”

The Cowboys took a 16-7 lead early in the third quarter when Tabary found Tavarious Battiste for a 30-yard touchdown strike, the team’s first TD of the night.

McNeese forced a 3-and-out on Nicholls’ ensuing possession and was driving for more points when Tabary was picked off by Colonel linebacker Jonavon Lewis who returned it 67 yards for the score and cut into the lead to make it 16-13 with 6:18 to play.

After the two teams swapped unsuccessful possessions, Tabary hit Darious Crawley for a 9-yard score to make it 22-14 with 2:29 to play. Then on the Colonels’ first play of their next possession, quarterback Chase Fourcade found Dami Jeanpiere who twisted his way to a 77-yard score and once again cutting the margin to 22-21 with 2:07 to play in the third.

Tabary and Battiste connected again for a 28-yard score to make it 29-21 with 13:02 to play in the game but Nicholls scored two straight touchdowns to go up 34-29 at the 5:43 mark with the second TD coming off a Tabary interception at the Cowboys’ 18-yard line.

But before Nicholls took the lead, Cowboys’ running back David Hamm powered through the line and sprinted 77 yards for a score that would’ve put the Cowboys up by nine again, only to have it called back on a holding penalty.

Even after Nicholls went back up, McNeese stormed back and built on a 53-yard end around run by Crawley that put the ball at the Nicholls 22. That set up Edwards’ go-ahead score with 3:02 left.

McNeese dominated the stats with 432 offensive yards (238 passing and 194 rushing) to Nicholls’ 304 (213 passing and 91 rushing). The Cowboys held a 24-14 advantage in first downs but were whistled for 13 penalties for 117 yards.

The Cowboys controlled the ball for 40:06 to Nicholls 19:54 and converted 6 of 15 third downs to Nicholls 2 of 7.

Tabary ended the night 25 of 42 passing for 238 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Battiste paced 10 players who caught passes with six grabs for 78 yards and two scores while Crawley led the team in rushing with 53 yards on one carry.

Foucade completed 10 of 21 passes for 213 yards, three tds and an interception while rushing for 49 yards and a score for the Colonels.

On special teams, McNeese’s Kyree McLean blocked two punts on the night while Trent Manuel hit 3 of 4 field goals, all in the first half, from yards of 29, 21 and 25 yards. He had a 28 yarder blocked at the horn to end the first half.

“This is just the first game of the season,” said McLean who also had two tackles on the night. “We’ll get better from this. There’s still a lot of the season left to play.”

McNeese will open up its home season next Saturday when it hosts Florida Tech.

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