“Beware the fury of a patient man.”
The McNeese Cowboys comprised the patient part of English poet John Dryden’s writing and the fury came with that 20-10 beat down of Nicholls State that avenged last year’s loss that essentially kept the Pokes out of the national playoffs.
The Cowboys have been stewing over that 37-35 last-second field goal defeat to the Colonels for well over a year despite all their verbiage to the contrary.
McNeese’s Lance Guidry took the coaching high road during the off-season and even over the weeks building up to his critical Southland Conference matchup, saying it was the next game and one that will not determine the season or the league race.
We knew better.
The players and coaches had this home opener circled in red and did not have to remind each other of the reasons why.
But in his postgame comments, Guidry added another twist to the game story and the motivations leading up to it.
When you mention preseason conference honors like first team this or second team that, Guidry and his coaching brethren wave them off, saying they don’t mean anything. It’s just media fluff based on what happened the year before.
Well, in this instance, with this McNeese team, that wasn’t the case.
You see, McNeese’s defense led the SLC in nearly every defensive statistic last year. They dominated the league and were ranked as one of the best defenses in the FCS. There’s a fair share of defensive stars back from last season’s unit. But all except one (linebacker B.J. Blunt) were snubbed in preseason all conference voting by the SLC coaches.
“Last year, at the end of the year, we had one first team all conference guy on defense; and we led every statistical category; and none of the other coaches voted for our guys. And this year, the preseason comes out, and we have one guy on the preseason and Nicholls has six. So our guys took it offensive. They really did that [because] the other coaches think so little of them. They took it personally,” Guidry admitted.
It doesn’t hurt to have a personal grudge going into a game of this magnitude.
That fury came out on the game’s very first play, as the Pokes forced a fumble on the opening kickoff. It was none other than Blunt who recovered it at the Nicholls’ 16-yard line. On the next play, James Tabary zipped a pass to Lawayne Ross for a 7-0 dagger.
“The kickoff team set the tone for the whole night. We were going to be the most physical team. And of course, we scored on the very next play and I thought the whole team fed off that,” said Guidry.
That touchdown within 10 seconds of the beginning of the game was actually the quickest non-kickoff-return score in McNeese history. If you’re looking to jump on a team early when you have a heavy dose of revenge and redemption in your gut, what better way to do it?
Maybe the hour-long rain and lightning delay played right into Guidry’s plan. It definitely hurt the fan attendance for a game that was hyped enough to threaten a near sellout crowd. But the ominous weather forced the Colonels to wait it out in a small, uncomfortable visitor’s locker room, while McNeese stretched out in their cool, roomy facilities.
Guidry chuckled, “advantage McNeese,” saying “our kids are used to chaos because we’ve been through bad weather deals before.”
This was Southland football at its highest level: two very talented teams with the league’s top two quarterbacks in Tabary (second team SLC preseason) and the Colonels’ Chase Fourcade (first team All SLC preseason). They’re two guys with a long history of friendship and rivalry going back to their prep days in New Orleans.
The Cowboys’ bone-crushing defense, led by Blunt and defensive end Cody Roscoe, has picked up where that record-setting 2017 defense left off. They were countered by Nicholls’ highly honored and recognized defensive front seven and a lengthy list of FBS transfers dotting the entire roster.
It’s ironic how this matchup was a reversal of the much-talked-about 2017 game in Thibodaux. Most of the stats favored Nicholls this year, while it was McNeese winning the game on paper last season. Fourcade ran up some big numbers, as did his star receiver Damion Jeanpiere. But their only touchdown came with seconds remaining in the game.
Fourcade is a gutsy, tough competitor who repeatedly threw deep in hopes of exposing McNeese’s Achilles heel. But those soft spots in the secondary hardened while Blunt solidified his role as defensive leader, with an all-world game of nine total tackles, three sacks and four stops for negative yards. Add that fumble recovery on the opening kickoff for good measure.
“The game was won before we got on the field,” proclaimed Blunt. “We prepared the whole week. We went hard and worked hard. Coach Guidry got on us for minor things, and those things came into factor tonight, and we won the game.”
Blunt, a 6 foot, 1 inch, 210 pound safety type playing linebacker, has morphed into one of the best defenders in the country. He’ll have opportunities at the next level in the NFL. Blunt, a senior from New Orleans, is at the core of this team as its emotional leader, and nearly matches his head coach’s passion for the game.
“He practices hard, plays hard,” gushed Guidry. “His composure never changes. He listens to corrections. He’s very respectful. I just love him. I love the way he plays. He is a team guy, and all he wants to do is win. And he loves to play.”
This is how recruiting and chasing the right player over time can change your team. McNeese signed Blunt out of high school, but he was forced to go the junior college route for academic reasons. Once he became eligible again, Blunt remembered Guidry and the Cowboys and resigned.
Tabary is another team leader and another senior from New Orleans. His game is picking up steam. Coming off those 355 yards and four touchdowns against Houston Baptist, Tabary was a more subdued 14 of 19 for 133 and two scores. He didn’t outduel his buddy Fourcade, who had 257 yards on 22 of 41 passes. But Tabary won the game, which was his only goal.
“I think overall, we played well as a unit (offense),” Tabary said. “We played efficient. But we have to limit some penalties. We can’t go up to BYU and have those types of things set us back on drives. I think it’s some cleanup stuff. But I think the offense overall played really well.”
Tabary’s two touchdown tosses were spot-on darts. He had a total of 280 offensive yards with nearly 5 yards per offensive play against that Nicholl’s defense — did we mention it had six preseason All SLC players? That’s respectable.
The receivers are coming around and making tough catches across the middle and in space. The running game is improving, with 147 yards on 39 carries. (Ryan Ross had an amazing 25-yard tackle-breaking burst that included two 360 spins.) Pass protection held up nicely when it was needed and the play calling was aggressive at times.
“Our film work and practices have been tremendous the last three weeks,” said Tabary. “When you have great practices, it will show on the field. And that’s what I have been stressing to the guys.”
Young sophomore receiver Cyron Sutton, who was on the receiving end of Tabary’s second touchdown pass, revealed that the Cowboys actually watched a bit more Nicholls tape during the 67-minute weather delay while they were stuck in that comfy locker room. The Colonels did not have that luxury.
This was a premier FCS early-season matchup between two Top 20 ranked teams. (McNeese will surely move up from the No. 15 spot after this victory.) There was a lot of media attention and television coverage as well, with Cox Sports and ESPN 3 carrying the game. It’s been a while since a McNeese-Nicholls State team has garnered this much intrigue and interest.
Chalk it up to 2017, and maybe Nicholls’ biggest win in school history — that upset of FBS Kansas from the Big 12 in the season opener.
Hyped up game. Cowboys with chips on their shoulders. Nicholls players getting chippy with McNeese players after the game during handshakes. With all that being said, Guidry’s Pokes answered the call. With an edge to his voice, he said his team did what they are expected to do.
“We talk about winning playoff games and getting back to how McNeese use to be. (To do that) we need to beat Nicholls State. We’re McNeese. That’s the way we feel. That’s why guys come here. They come here to McNeese over Nicholls. So Nicholls has always had a chip on their shoulders. Not trying to be cocky by any means, but Nicholls is not our measuring stick.”
It was another frank and honest assessment of where his program is and should be against Southland rivals from Guidry.
McNeese has a 3-0 start and is 2-0 in the league with a guaranteed money game at Brigham Young. In August camp, there was talk about going to Provo and maybe stealing an FBS upset. But after a resurgent BYU take down of previously sixth-ranked Wisconsin on the road, we know this is not the weakened Cougar program that was seen the last two years.
The last Power 5 FBS matchup for McNeese was a near upset of Nebraska in 2014. We won’t count that 2015 game at LSU, which lasted one and a half series and was halted by lightning.
None of the current Cowboys were on the field in Lincoln against the Cornhuskers, so this BYU game will be an exciting and fun opportunity for them to put their best out there against a heavily favored FBS opponent.
The steady voices of Tabary and Blunt will echo in the McNeese locker room and in practices, urging their teammates to play with an edge but with a level head.
“Next game up,” says Tabary. “Everybody said Nicholls was the big game, but really, it was the big game because it was the next game up. We’re going to BYU and play McNeese football. It’s not us against BYU. It’s us against us. If we can execute our game plan and not beat ourselves, we have a shot easily.
“It will be fun to get out there and play against high level competition. I know the guys will be out there to prove something. This team plays with a chip on their shoulders at all times. I know every single person has something to prove.”
They proved against Nicholls that a highly motivated and focused McNeese team is hard to beat.
Rick Sarro’s perspectives and commentary can be heard on Soundoff 60 nightly, Monday through Sunday evenings, at 9 pm; broadcast on channel 4 on Suddenlink.