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Opinion: McNeese Curse Could Prove Costly for N'Western State's Stoker
NATCHITOCHES – Even Scott Stoker had to take shelter; his bald head covered by a fresh-out-of-the-bookstore hoodie in the closing stages of Saturday’s game against rival McNeese State.
Stoker’s Northwestern State Demons put up a valiant fight on defense, but on the night football weather finally arrived, NSU’s offense locked up.
It was a painstakingly slow death at Turpin Stadium. The final was 24-17 - another close, yet fruitless battle against the Cowboys - but the brave, bundled souls didn’t have to be too perceptive to predict the outcome.
The box score may say the first half determined nothing. The score was 10-up, but the better team was obvious. And the Demons’ playoff hopes were all but slipping away.
McNeese doubled up NSU in total offense and the Demons were limping from the get-go. When offensive lineman Michael Booker was lost midway through the first quarter, the Demons had emptied their reserves.
Forced to play with two freshmen up front, the Demons responded well initially. The drive that saw Booker go down ended with a touchdown off a quarterback sneak from John Hundley.
Reality did eventually set in.
“In a ballgame this big, those young guys, the speed’s a little faster than they’re used to,” Stoker said. “The one spot we couldn’t afford to lose anybody was up front. Especially not (Booker); he’s probably our best one.”
As the cold set in late Saturday, the Cowboys didn’t help NSU’s search for rhythm on offense, running 23 of 24 plays in the game at one point.
McNeese was tops in the Southland Conference in scoring (39.9) and total offense (471 yards per game) entering Saturday. The Cowboys wouldn’t be denied.
Finally, in the fourth quarter, the bend-yet-don’t-break Demons unit wilted.
“Our defense was on the field too long,” Stoker said.
The Demons controlled their own playoff destiny. Now, they have to hit the lottery. In order to claim a three-loss conference title, the Demons (6-5, 3-3 SLC) have to win in the regular season’s final week while Texas State, McNeese and Southeastern Louisiana have to lose.
It seems as likely as a Demons’ offensive explosion.
McNeese has been the better team in this rivalry for the past few years, yet the Demons always come to play. However, McNeese has now found a way to prevail on four straight occasions; all by seven points or less.
McNeese-NSU isn’t Ohio State-Michigan.
Or is it?
If one coach suffers a drought against the hated opponent in the Big Ten rivalry, his days are usually numbered.
The importance of Saturday’s outcome - and the three prior failures in this rivalry - for Stoker and the Demons is currently unknown.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s extremely frustrating,” Stoker said of the McNeese curse.
Said NSU junior tight end Gordon Freeman, who doesn’t know what it’s like to beat the Cowboys: “It’s just a mind thing. We just have to suck it up.
“Next year is going to be our year.”
Who will and won’t be around?
Lang: McNeese curse could prove costly for Stoker
By Roy Lang III, The Alexandria Town Talk (LA)