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Title Hopes On the Line as N'Western State Hosts McNeese
NATCHITOCHES – In any other year, the luster would be off today’s Northwestern State-McNeese State showdown.
In any other year, teams with two Southland Conference losses with two games to play would be out of the race, or at least pinning their hopes on an unlikely slip-up from teams ahead of them in the league standings.
But this year is different. This year, a team with multiple losses will win the conference and go to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
NSU can take a big step toward being that team if it beats McNeese at 6 p.m. in Turpin Stadium today.
“It doesn’t get any bigger than this week,” said NSU coach Scott Stoker, who has seen this rivalry as a player and coach with the Demons and as an assistant with the Cowboys. “It doesn’t get any more intense. I have no doubt we will play well.”
“We were very disappointed after last week,” said receiver Adam Varnado. “But we’re excited we still have an opportunity to win the conference and go to the playoffs.”
Northwestern laid an egg in its first “game of the year,” getting routed 42-6 at Central Arkansas last weekend.
The teams were tied for first in the Southland standings at the time, and the win seemed to give the Bears the inside track to the title in their second year in the league.
But a ruling by the NCAA this week made UCA ineligible for the SLC crown. The Bears are not eligible for the FCS playoffs because they are still in the five-year transition period from Division II. The NCAA ruled this week that if they were awarded the conference championship, the SLC would lose its automatic playoff spot, forcing league officials to declare the Bears ineligible for the title.
That leaves NSU (6-4), McNeese State (6-3) and Texas State tied for first in the Southland at 3-2. A win today would give the Demons a tiebreaker edge since they also beat Texas State.
Of course, they have to perform better than they did in a big-game situation last week.
The Cowboys are every bit as good or better offensively as UCA. They lead the conference in scoring (39.9 points per game) and total offense (471.4 yards per game, and boast stars at quarterback (Derrick Fourroux), receiver (Stephen Whitehead) and especially at running back (Todd Pendland).
The Demons are hoping the hard-won experience from last week will help them in a similar atmosphere today.
“We hadn’t been in that situation before,” Stoker said. “Whether they clammed up or whatever, we didn’t handle it very well. It’s difficult unless you’ve been in that type of game before. Hopefully, we learned a valuable lesson.”
“We’re extremely excited,” said defensive lineman Scott Wattigny. “We still control our own destiny. With everything that’s happened, with the losses to Southeastern (Louisiana) and UCA, we can still win the conference and go to the playoffs.”
Title hopes on the line as NSU hosts McNeese
By Jeff Matthews, The Alezandria Town Talk (LA)