NATCHITOCHES — Northwestern State put its passing game on track this week, but McNeese’s was much better Saturday as the Cowboys pulled away from a 21-all third-quarter tie to post a 48-27 Southland Conference football win before a Homecoming crowd of 10,159 in Turpin Stadium.
McNeese quarterback James Tabary threw for 384 yards and three touchdowns as a historically-grounded Cowboys’ offense sprouted wings under first-year head coach Lance Guidry.
Tabary took advantage of an injury-riddled secondary to complete 29-of-43 passes as the Cowboys (4-4, 3-3 Southland Conference) won their 12th straight game in the series. Tabary threatened a 31-year-old McNeese single-game passing record of 405 yards.
The Cowboys never trailed. They took a 21-7 second quarter advantage but NSU closed within a score 2:44 before halftime on Ronald Green’s 28-yard run.
NSU (1-6, 0-5 SLC) stormed out in the third quarter to tie the game 21-21 just over three minutes into the second half on a Shakeir Ryan 26-yard touchdown run on a reverse, but McNeese scored 27 of the last 33 points.
“We came out on fire, which is what we needed to do,” said NSU coach Jay Thomas. “We have a great drive to tie the game, but we found a way to give it back with penalties and mistakes.
“We gave away the field position we created.”
Ryan added three catches for 13 yards, moving into second on NSU’s career receptions list with 127. He passed Derrick Doyle (2003-06), who had 126 grabs.
NSU quarterback Brooks Haack threw for 241 yards on 19-of-35 passing with a first-quarter touchdown to Bobby Chan-Chan of seven yards.
The Cowboys quickly answered Ryan’s game-tying TD with a field goal to regain the edge for good.
McNeese kicker Gunner Raborn made one of his two field goals to push the Cowboys’ edge to 24-21 with 9:02 left in the third quarter to start a 17-0 run.
On the next two McNeese possessions, running back Justin Pratt scored on a 47-yard scamper and receiver Kylon Highshaw hauled in a 6-yard touchdown to push the visitors up 38-21.
Raborn sandwiched a field goal between two Eric Piccione field goals of 30 yards each before McNeese capped its win with 1:35 left on a 70-yard interception return from Jermaine Antoine.
Down 41-24, NSU defensive end JeMarcus Marshall gave the Demons a measure of hope as he dropped in coverage to intercept a Tabary pass. Piccione’s second field goal, with 7:49 remaining, cut McNeese’s lead to 41-27 with 7:49 remaining, but the Cowboys turned NSU back in its last two possessions.
“The coaches made a great call, and I noticed McNeese was going to try a quick pass,” said Marshall, who has a large cast on his arm. “I dropped underneath, and they threw it straight to me.
“The coach preaches to continue to fight, and we resemble that. We fight for each other, and we’re always going to be in each other’s corner – win or lose.”
McNeese balanced its offensive attack with an efficient running game, gaining 217 yards on 36 carries. Pratt recorded a game-high 124 yards on just nine touches.
NSU piled up 173 rushing yards on just 26 carries led by Ronald Green (70 yards and a touchdown) and De’Mard Llorens (57 yards).
The Demons created big plays through the air with Chan-Chan recording a game-high 90 yards on seven catches with Tuff McClain adding 70 yards on three catches.
Third down continues to plague NSU as converted just 2-of-11.
The Demons return to action when they host Nicholls next Saturday at 6 p.m.
— Matt Vines, Northwestern State Assistant Communications Directory; feature photo by Gary Hardamon/NSU Photographic Services