LAKE CHARLES – Justin Pratt ran for 83 yards and scored three touchdowns (two rushing and one receiving) while Benjamin Jones put up 82 yards and a score and put the game away with a 69-yard touchdown run as McNeese posted a 42-21 win over a gritty Florida Tech team in the home opener on Saturday night.
The win evened the Cowboys record at 1-1 on the season as Florida Tech fell to 1-1.
Quarterback James Tabary completed 21 of 29 passes for 249 yards and two scores but was sacked a total of five times by the athletic Division II team.
FIT quarterback Mark Cato gave the Cowboys fits on the night, throwing for 333 yards and two touchdowns while completing a good portion of those passes while scrambling from McNeese’s defense.
“Their quarterback was really good,” said McNeese head coach Lance Guidry. “He didn’t play in their last game or in their playoff game at the end of last year because of breaking team rules. What a really good player. He extended a lot of drives for them. Without him, I don’t know how much offense they would’ve had.”
The Panthers rolled up 366 total yards but posted just 33 on the ground. That was in large part to the McNeese defense that was able to sack Cato six times in the game to go along with nine tackles for a loss. But FIT’s offense threw a curveball at the Cowboys that allowed it to hang in there until late in the third quarter.
“They had a good game plan for us,” said Guidry. “We weren’t expecting any of their four wide, five wide sets. They were more of a running offense with two tight ends and a running back so they came out and hit the sets, so we did a lot of game planning on the sideline. Everything we worked on during the week we didn’t get to use it in the game. None of our calls would work because of what they were doing.”
“We went back to some old things that we did when teams would surprise us like this. But we battled and got the win.”
Things looked flawless for the Cowboys early on as they opened up a 21-0 lead through the first 27 minutes of the game. Tabary was near perfect in the first quarter as well, hitting 9 of 10 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown, and finished the first half 13 of 17 for 193 yards and two scores.
Pratt scored the first of two TDs with 11:50 to play in the first quarter on a 1-yard dive. Five minutes later, wide receiver Cyron Sutton hauled in a one-handed overhead pass from Tabary for a 28-yard score to put the Cowboys up 14-0. Then with 3:31 to play in the second quarter, Pratt found pay dirt for the second time on a 7-yard pass from Tabary to make it 21-0.
The Panther found the endzone for the first time with 1:04 to play in the half when Cato found Antwuan Haynes for an 11-yard score as McNeese held a 21-7 lead at the half.
FIT came out in the second half and drove down the field, ending with a 20-yard touchdown connection from Cato to Romell Guerrier after hit appeared McNeese defensive back Kyree McLean had intercepted the pass only to have Guerrier come up with the ball and cut the Cowboys lead to 21-14 with 9:42 to play in the third quarter.
The Cowboys got a big break on the next series when punter Alex Kjellsten had to go high on a bad snap, then scrambled to get away from the rushing defense and was able to boot the ball away. Standing on the 7-yard line was FIT returner Demetrius Frazier who had the line drive punt go through his hands, touching both, while Sutton covered the ball at the 2 and giving it back to the Cowboys.
Two plays later, Pratt barreled in from four yards out to put McNeese up 28-14 with 4:12 to play in the third quarter.
“That was huge for us,” said Guidry about Kjellsten’s kick and fumble recovery. “That was a turning point of the game.”
From that point, the Cowboys turned it up, holding the Panthers to just three first downs the rest of the way and one rushing yard even after they scored on a 19-yard run to make it a 28-21 game.
McNeese owned the fourth quarter behind a 6-yard touchdown run by David Hamm then Jones’s 69-yard sprint for the final score of the contest.
The Cowboys will hit the road next week to face Alcorn State out of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
• Jermaine Antoine intercepted his second pass in as many games and now has seven in his career.
• Cyron Sutton’s 28-yard TD catch in the first quarter was his first career catch and TD.
• First year punter Alex Kjellsten 44.2 yards per punt on five kicks with three downed inside the 20-yard line on the night.
• Snapper Jake Smith had the tackle of the game when he plowed FIT punt returner Demetrius Frazier to hold him to a 2-yard return. Said head coach Lance Guidry about the tackle… “He’s a first year snapper. He ran down there and made a good play. Everybody was excited for him. It was great to see.”
• QB James Tabary’s two TD passes gives him 28 in his career, seven shy of moving into fifth place on the McNeese career record list for touchdown passes.
• WR Kent Shelby led the team with six catches on the night, extending his streak to 26 consecutive games with making at least one reception.
• McNeese has now won 13 straight home openers and improves its all-time home record to 202-90-5.
• Five McNeese greats were inducted into the McNeese Hall of Fame – football players Adam Henry and Toddrick Pendland; basketball’s Patrick Richard; track’s Sarah Salmon; and baseball coach Tony Robichaux.
• The attendance for the game was 11,101.
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