Strong rally by McNeese falls just short in loss to SLU

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LAKE CHARLES – McNeese scored 28 points in four of its final six possessions and rallied from a 24-7 halftime deficit to pull to within three points, but the Cowboys were unable to recover an onside kick late in the game as 15th-ranked Southeastern held on for a 38-35 Southland Conference win.

The loss dropped the Cowboys to 1-4 overall and 0-2 in league play while the Lions improved to 3-1 and 1-0.

Quarterback Cody Orgeron completed 14 of 23 passes for 246 yards and three touchdowns while his only interception of the game came late in the third quarter and the Cowboys trailing 31-21 and just forced the Lions to punt the ball away. After a slow first half, Orgeron completed 11 of 15 passes for 206 yards and all three touchdowns in the second half.

Mason Pierce finished the game with six catches for 79 yards and two touchdowns, rushed for another score. He also returned one punt for 66 yards and three kickoffs for 44 yards.

SLU quarterback Cole Kelley completed 36 of 49 yards for 391 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.

That pick by Chris Joyce on the game’s second play and less than a minute into the contest, set up a 1-yard Stephon Huderson plunge to give the Cowboys a quick 7-0 lead. Orgeron, who led McNeese with 77 yards on 13 carries, had a game-long run of 29 yards to get the ball to the 1-yard line.

SLU quickly responded, marching 75 yards in nine plays and ending with a 13-yard touchdown pass by Kelley to Nick Kovacs to tie the game 7-7 with 8:20 to play in the first quarter.

The lead grew to 14-7 after the Lions forced McNeese into a 3-and-out on its next possession and when Kelley scored on a 1-yard run at the 4:36 mark of the opening quarter.

McNeese’s defense, which was led in the tackling department by linebacker Kordell Williams’ 17 tackles, forced the Lions into a 28-yard field goal to make the game 17-7. The Cowboys moved the ball into the Lions’ red-zone on the following possession but would come up empty after Jacob Abel missed a 35-yard field goal.

Kelley and the Lions ended the half with a 93-yard drive that took 15 plays and ended with a 6-yard Kelley touchdown pass to C.J. Turner to make it a 24-7 halftime lead.

Just like it did to start the game, the Cowboys opened up the second half with a first possession turnover when Callum Eddings’ punt hit the back of one of the SLU players and Tahj Samuel recovered at the 17-yard line. On the first offensive play, Orgeron found Josh Matthew on a 17-yard strike in the endzone for the score and cutting the deficit to 24-14.

The lead grew to 31-14 when SLU’s Taron Jones ran it in from 1-yard out on the next Lions possession, but the Cowboys struck back quickly on a three-play scoring drive, ending when Orgeron connected with Pierce on a 48-yard catch and run score and cutting the margin to 31-21.

McNeese’s defense held the Lions to punt and was looking to close the gap, but on third-and-5, Orgeron’s pass to an open Pierce down the visiting sideline would be intercepted by Douglas who made an incredible one-handed grab and keeping Pierce from likely scoring and closing the gap even more.

Defense gave the offense the ball back when it held the Lions on a fourth-and-1 at the McNeese 41 but McNeese was unable to move the ball and would be forced to punt it away trailing by 10 with 11:09 remaining.

Kelley then threw his third touchdown pass of the game when he connected with Tim Wilson Jr. from eight yards out to make it a 38-21 score with 8:54 to play.

McNeese wouldn’t lie down though and stormed back. On the first play from scrimmage at its own 18, Orgeron found Deonta McMahon who took the pass in the flats and turned it into a 48-yard gain. Orgeron and McMahon connected again two plays later for a 20-yard pickup to the Lions 11, then Pierce hauled in his second TD of the game on an 11-yard throw by Orgeron to cut the lead to 38-28 with 6:45 left on the clock.

Pierce came up big again when he fielded a low punt off the bounce and sprinted 50 yards down the field, had the ball punched out from behind, but recovered it at the 4-yard line. Two plays later Pierce reeled in a lateral pass from Orgeron and scored from three yards out to cut the Lions lead to 38-35 with 3:22 to play.

McNeese opted for an onside kick that was recovered by the Lions, who was able to run out the clock after converting on a fourth-and-1 with 2:07 remaining.

Southeastern outgained McNeese 546 to 367 but the Cowboys held a 240-199 advantage in the second half. In addition, the Cowboys averaged 6.9 yards gained per play while SLU averaged 6.1 per play. Orgeron averaged 17.6 yards per completion while Kelley averaged 10.9 yards.

Quoting Head Coach Frank Wilson:
“We came in and played a ranked component in the country. A very quality football team. I thought we were much improved from from a week ago. I think that team (SLU) was as good as advertised with stellar play for them at the quarterback position. We wanted the quarterback to try to beat us at times with his feet. He showed some running ability. I thought we got some good hits on him. I thought our team played really hard. I’m disappointed in the outcome that we didn’t get the victory, but very proud of the effort and the way that we played. We scratched, crawled, clawed our way back into the game with a never-say-die spirit. Time just ran out on us but I thought that we competed at a very high level.”

Next Up:
McNeese will be off next Saturday before returning to action on Oct. 16 when it visits Northwestern State. The Cowboys will return home on Oct. 23 when they host Incarnate Word.

Postgame Notes:
• McNeese scored on its opening possession for the first time this season when Stephon Huderson scored from 1-yard out to give the Cowboys a 7-0 lead. The last time the Cowboys scored on their opening drive came against Lamar during the spring season.
• Cody Orgeron increased his career numbers to 42 touchdowns (ranking 5th all-time in school history), 5,336 passing yards (7th), 455 completions (7th) and 776 pass attempts (8th).
• Pierce caught his first TDs of the season and 4th and 5th of his career.
• Josh Matthews made his 3rd TD reception of the year.
• Chris Joyce picked off his first pass as a Cowboy.
• Orgeron recorded 323 total offensive yards in the game (246 passing, 77 rushing).
• Isaiah Chambers recorded a sack in his second straight game.
• Captains for the game were Andre Sam and Josh Matthews.

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