SAN ANTONIO – UIW proved on Saturday night that it’s 3-1 Southland Conference record was no fluke as the Cardinals rolled up 274 first half yards, built a 28-3 halftime lead, and coasted to an upset win over No. 6 McNeese 45-17 at Gayle and Tom Benson Stadium.
The loss was the first for the Cowboys in league play this season and first defeat at the hands of an FCS opponent on the year as they drop to 5-2 overall and 4-1 in league play. UIW stayed alive in the conference race by improving to 4-1 (4-3 overall), tying it with McNeese and Central Arkansas atop the league standings.
McNeese will host UCA next Saturday at 6 p.m. for homecoming.
“We had two good weeks of practice,” said head coach Lance Guidry. “I know after an open week one of two things are going to happen. You’re either going to play really good or you’re going to play like you haven’t played in a week and that’s what it looked like. We threw a pick right off the get go to set them up.
“They did a good job in the first half with a few wrinkles, but not bad, but they just made some plays.”
The Cardinals scored touchdowns on their first two possessions and four of the first six drives, averaging under three minutes a drive on those scores as they finished the game with 82 total snaps taken.
Meanwhile, McNeese’s defense was having a tough time with the up-tempo pace of the UIW offense in the first half, but came out in the second half determined to get the Cowboys back into the game.
“We didn’t play as well as we needed to defensively in the first half,” said Guidry. “Second half, I thought we rose to the challenge but we couldn’t get the offense started. We just fell too far behind.”
Unfortunately, the McNeese offense never found its rhythm with just 100 first half yards and 222 total against a defense that was allowing 520 yards a contest coming into the game.
The Cowboys got a charge to start the second half when Cory McCoy intercepted a UIW pass at the Cardinal 33-yard line and six plays later, James Tabary connected with Kylon Highshaw on a 4-yard touchdown strike to cut the margin to 28-10 with less than three minutes gone by in the third quarter.
After both teams were held to three-and-outs the next two possessions, the Cardinals took a 31-10 lead off a 35-yard Cody Seidel field goal with 6:50 to play in the quarter. Tabary then threw his second interception of the game and the Cowboys made a change behind center, bringing in Cody Orgeron who, on his second series, drove the Cowboys 87 yards in six plays and capping it with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Lawayne Ross to cut the margin to 38-17 with 14:41 to play in the game.
“Cody did some good things when he came in,” said Guidry. “He led us down to a score when he came in. But the bottom line, we spotted them too many points.”
UIW closed things out with 6:31 to play when Louis Otis intercepted an Orgeron pass and returned it 37 yards for a score to make it 45-17.
Orgeron finished the night 8 of 17 passing for 80 yards while Tabary went 11 of 22 for 76 yards. Orgeron also led McNeese in the running game with 16 yards on two carries with a long of 22 yards that set up a touchdown.
Cardinal quarterback Jon Copeland, the league’s No. 1 passer, completed 24 of 41 passes for 236 yards, three touchdowns and just one interception.
The game got off on the wrong foot for the Cowboys when a Tabary pass was intercepted by Malic Phillips on the game’s third play. Six plays and 1:55 later, Copeland found Phillip Baptiste for a 20-yard score to put UIW up 7-0 just 2:38 into the game.
The Cowboys responded on their next drive and got the ball to the UIW 19-yard line before stalling and having to settle for a 37-yard Gunnar Raborn field goal to make it a 7-3 game with 6:07 to play in the first quarter.
UIW came back with an 8-yard Copeland pass to Lamont Johnson with 2:33 to play in the first quarter to go up 14-3, and after a missed field goal by Raborn from 41-yards out, the Cardinals put together an 11-play, 76-yard drive that ended with a Ra’Quanne Dickens 7-yard touchdown run to make it a 21-3 game with 6:53 to play in the second quarter.
The Cardinals added one more touchdown in the half, a 4-yard run by Copeland with 2:01 to play, as UIW took a 28-3 lead into the half.
After giving up 274 yards in the first half, McNeese’s defense held UIW to 116 in the second and 390 total, 100 yards under its season average.
“Hat’s off to them, they have some good players,” said Guidry. “Their quarterback did a good job, receivers played well and their defense came to play.
“People need to stop stereotyping the names of schools with how good of a football team they had, or how bad from the year before. Incarnate Word is not the same football team. They are a lot better football team. They have the top offense in the conference.”
Linebacker BJ Blunt led the Cowboys with 12 tackles, his third-straight double-digit tackle game, and added a sack and two-and-a-half tackles for a loss.