4:45 4th Quarter, Texas A&M Commerce 31, Southeastern Louisiana 28. If there was ever a turning point to the Lions 2022 season, it was at this moment. #19 Southeastern, in front a raucous Homecoming crowd, had just scored and cut the Commerce lead to three points. In past games, we’ve seen them unable to rise to the challenge. To prove themselves. To hold on, and not by the skin of their teeth. They stumbled earlier this season surrendering a late drive and a last second score. Would it happen again?
Not this time. Not this Lion team. Instead of shrinking from the limelight, they rose up and stepped fully onto center stage.. Eschewing the safe, conservative approach, Head Coach David Bailiff, Offensive Coordinator Billy Riebock and the staff instead attacked boldly, and instead of having to just hold on, instead ran out the clock, shocked the rest of the Southland Conference, and left Hammond with a victory that they controlled for all but one minute of game time. It was truly a team effort, with a rock-solid defense, an offense that struck fast, early and often. and special teams that were nothing short of outstanding. If there was any doubt that Texas A&M-Commerce belonged in FCS Division 1, or could compete at this level, let them be laid to rest right here. The Lions have established themselves as a force in the Southland Conference, that, while they may be a year or so away, will have to be reckoned with.
Now, onto this week, and a closer look at our friends from Lake Charles, McNeese State.
Points: 37.6 ppg
Rush: 146.0 ypg
Pass: 256.6 ypg
Total: 402. 6 ypg
Points. 37.4 ppg
Rush: 243.4 ypg
Pass: 215.2 ypg
McNeese is in their first season under Gary Goff, who comes to McNeese as a proven winner from Valdosta State, where he was 22-3 and took the Blazers to the Division 2 National Championship game in 2021. He knows how to win and is sure to have McNeese in the thick of things soon.
UP FRONT/ TALE OF THE TAPE:
Lions Offensive Line: 6’3″ 293 lbs.
Cowboys 6’2″ 249 lbs.
The Lions young offensive line is coming together at just the right time. They allowed only three quarterback sacks last week despite constant pressure from a very good Southeastern Louisiana defense. The unit, led by sophomore Jadin Jones (6’4″ 278 lbs.) senior Solomon Ndukwe (6’3″ 318 lbs.), freshman Chandler Donaway (6’1″ 268 lbs.), senior Rehoboth Chibesa (6’3″ 309 lbs.) and freshman McKenzie Agnello (6’5″ 293 lbs.) have progressed very, very quickly, and only look to get better from here.
The McNeese defensive front is led by redshirt senior linebacker Kordell Williams (5’10” 205 lbs.) who has 48 tackles (29 solo) and senior lineman Mason Kinsey (6’2″ 246 lbs.), who has 30 tackles (13 solo). The Cowboys are a senior laden defensive front with some size but have had trouble stopping the run this season.
MOVERS AND SHAKERS/THE BACK LINE:
Lion Movers and Shakers: 5’11” 194 lbs.
Cowboys Back Line: 5’11” 177 lbs.
Sophomore Eric Rodriguez (5’10 195 lbs.) was back with a vengeance last week, going 26 of 38 for 374 yards and four touchdowns, along with 9 rushes for 45 yards, earning him honorable mention FCS Player of the Week honors.
Sophomore wide receiver Andrew Armstrong just continues his torrid pace, with 8 catches for 153 yards with a long of 77 yards. He is on pace to break some single season school records and become one of the best to ever wear the blue and gold. Kenedy Snell broke onto the scene last week with 6 catches for 113 yards including a 69-yard strike from Rodriguez the second play of the game.
Armstrong is just not a one man show, however. Sophomore Jaden Procter (5’8″ 155 lbs.) has 20 catches on the season for a 37.8-yard average, a pair of touchdowns, and a long of 27 yards. Senior B.J. Busbee continues to make his presence felt more and more, with 11 receptions for a 27.6-yard average, two touchdowns, and a long of 23 yards. Junior KeAndre Street continues to progress, with five receptions for 34 yards.
The Cowboys back line is led by senior Enos Lewis (5’10” 190 lbs.) who had 33 tackles (22 solo), and senior Tyler Barnes (5’10″195 lbs.), who has 30 tackles (21 solo), and sophomore Twillie Lovett (6’1″ 174 lbs.) McNeese has a good mixture of size and experience but will surely be tested this week.
VERY SPECIAL, INDEED: Sophomore punter Mitchell McGarry just continues to improve and impress averaging 35.4 yards on 17 punts, with a long of 52 yards. Junior Emmanuel Adagbon remains a perfect 5 of 5 on field goal attempts, including one from 33 yards last week. Freshman Aiden Martin is making it a habit to drive his kickoffs through the end zone, when they don’t, his hang time is sufficient to allow coverage to get downfield and make the play.
The Cowboys are led in punt returns by redshirt sophomore wide receiver Mason Pierce (5’7″ 152 lbs.,) who has four returns for a 6-yard average, and a long of 33 yards. He also has 7 kickoff returns for a 12.5-yard average, and a long of 42 yards. The leading kickoff returner for McNeese is senior running back Deonta McMahon (5’9″ 185 lbs.), who has seven returns for a 22.86-yard average, and a long of 42 yards.
THE LIONS CAN WIN THIS MATCHUP IF: The are many conflicting factors going into this game. Yes, McNeese State is 1-4, with losses to FCS powerhouse Montana State (40-17), Rice (52-10), Alcorn State (30-19), and fellow Southland Conference member Incarnate Word (48-20). They’re coming off of a bye week, at home, and will certainly be looking to shake off that losing feeling. They have speed, talent, and coach that knows how to win.
The Lions wrap up a two-game road trip, and after the accolades and accomplishments from last week’s historic win, but the challenge for David Bailiff and his staff will be to keep this still very young team focused on the task at hand. If they are able to accomplish this, then this week is a very winnable game. It would be very easy for the Lions to overlook the 1-4 Cowboys.
The keys for offensive success remain the same: The offensive line must keep Eric Rodriguez upright and be able to open some holes in the running game. A good sign last week was the lack of offensive penalities. That needs to continue, and ball security will be at a premium.
The mantra this week for the Lions could be borrowed from the Netflix series, Cobra Kai:
“Strike Hard, Strike Fast, No Mercy.:
In other words, hit McNeese early and often, and don’t allow them to hang in the ball game. Fans, your Lions belong here, and can more than hold their own against anyone in the Southland.
See You Saturday.