Cowboys ride away with win

The race for the Southland Conference Championship got tighter Saturday after a tough 35-23 loss at the hands of the McNeese State Cowboys.The Bearkats’ loss leaves them with a 3-1 conference record, but still on top of the conference, barely. Three teams (Northwestern State, McNeese State, Stephen F. Austin State) are now nipping at the Bearkats dreams of being Southland Conference Champions, each with conference records of 2-1. “(The loss) makes it a wide open conference race. This is what we didn’t want to do, but we did,” said SHSU coach Ron Randleman. “We still control our own destiny. The worst thing that can happen to us if we win the last two in the conference, we’re at least conference co-champions.”McNeese surprised the Bearkats by jumping out to a quick 28-0 lead by the second quarter. The Bearkats couldn’t seem to get anything going for them early on. McNeese’s first score resulted from the Bearkats going three and out on their first possession and having to kick from deep in their own territory. McNeese kick returner B.J. Sams took the ball to the Bearkat 29 yard line. The Cowboy offense took it from there and scored when Cowboy quarterback Slade Nagle connected with tight-end Jeff Hamilton.Things got worse for the good-guys when Bearkat quarterback Josh McCown was intercepted by Hadley Prince at the Sam Houston 45 yard line and returned it to the Sam Houston 28 yard line on the next drive . “We got off to a very poor start. We had three turnovers in the game, which are to many,” Randleman said. “Two of them were in the first quarter in our territory which will kill you.”The Bearkats were giving the Cowboys a short field by turning over the ball in their own territory, which in turn gave the Cowboys easy scoring opportunities.At the end of the first quarter Bearkat running back Joe Rauls had a fumble forced by Lebran Shepard, and the ball was recovered by McNeese’s Arthur Goodly at the Sam Houston 20 yard line. The Cowboys drove it down the field for another touchdown and left the Bearkats wondering what was happening.With the Cowboys leading 28-0 and the game deep into the second quarter, the offense finally got the Bearkats on the board.McCown lead the offense 80 yards for the score. They got into the end zone with the famous McCown to Cooper connection and suddenly there was life in the team that was left for dead.”To our credit, we fought back with a couple of nice drives to score twice and its 28-14. Suddenly we are back to life,” Randleman said. “We were scrambling the rest of the game to try and get in there, and we just had to get way out of the things we wanted to do and take some chances.”McNeese is a great defensive team, and they prove it by being ranked second defensively in the conference. The Bearkat’s offensive statistics did not reflect being intimidated by McNeese’s defense. The Bearkats racked up over 400 yards of offense against the Cowboys in the losing effort. McNeese State was successful in making the Bearkat offense one-dimensional. McCown attempted 61 passes during the game. McCown finished with 322 yards and three touchdowns passing while the running game accounted for only a net of 106 yards on 24 attempts.Randleman said the two early turnovers were a major factor in the Bearkat loss. He said they needed to do something to change the momentum, and they were not able to do that.The Bearkats did manage to make the Cowboy hopefuls break a sweat. The score was 28-14 going into half-time and the Bearkats took advantage of their first possession of the second half by scoring on a Joey Price field goal bringing Bearkats within come back range 28-17.”I think our entire team showed some real character. It could have really gotten ugly down there and it didn’t,” Randleman said. “Our guys fought back, and we showed that we are a good football team, but it was too little too late.”McNeese broke the Bearkat’s hopes of an upset by taking their next drive 69 yards for a touchdown, making the deficit 35-17. Our guys refused to give up and took a drive 97 yards in the fourth quarter capped by McCown and Cooper hooking up again for an 18 yard touchdown strike which brought the game to its final score of McNeese 35, Sam Houston 23.This Saturday brings non-conference opponent Western Illinois to Bowers Stadium. The last time these two teams met, Western Illinois came out on top 31-0 at their house. The Bearkats will be looking to settle the score on their home turf.If the Bearkats can win the last three games, they will not only get into the playoffs, but they will most likely host a first round game. This makes the rest of the season crucial for the Bearkats. Two of the last three games will be at home for the Bearkats, and they’re hoping for the hometown advantage.”It’s very important (being at home). We have played well at home. We couldn’t be in a better situation,” Randleman said. “Our effort is going to be can we get back and get after these guys.”

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