McNeese Cowboys Make History - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

McNeese Cowboys Make History

by Matthew Bonnette


THIBODAUX – Backup tailback Kelvin Bennett ran for a career-high 169 yards, 118 of those in the second half alone, and Khalil Thomas scored on a 94-yard kickoff return on the final play of the third quarter as 4th-ranked McNeese State rolled up 512 yards of offense en route to a 55-30 Southland Conference win over Nicholls here Saturday afternoon.


It's the first time in school history the Cowboys have scored 50 or more points four times in a season.


The balanced attacked saw McNeese (7-1, 3-0) racked up 313 yards on the ground and 199 yards in the air.  But the big stat came in the special teams area where McNeese got its first kickoff return for a touchdown since the 2010 season while four of the six punt returns helped set up good field position that led 24 points.  McNeese finished the game with 189 kickoff return yards (37.8 average) and 41 punt return yards (13.7 average).


"We played really good defensively in the first half," said head coach Matt Viator.  "We did some good things on offense too.  The biggest key for us today was we had some good special teams plays.  The first touchdown was set up by a punt return and of course we had the kickoff return for a touchdown."


Marcuse Wiltz followed Bennett in the rushing stats with 98 yards on 14 carries for a 7.0 yards per carry average.  Cody Stroud completed 16 of 21 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown while Tyler Bolfing completed both of his passes for 20 yards.


"My job was really easy today," said Stroud.  "The receivers ran some great routes and made the grabs.  All I had to do was get it to them."


Stroud's touchdown pass to Diontae Spencer in the first quarter tied a McNeese record with 13 consecutive games with a touchdown pass.


Nicholls (4-4, 1-2) scored the first points of the game on an Andrew Dolan 48 yard field goal to give the Colonels a 3-0 lead just 3-and-a-half minutes into the game. 


Spencer's 5-yard touchdown grab five minutes later put the Cowboys up to stay at 7-3 with 6:02 to go in the quarter.  That score was set up by his 27-yard punt return that started the drive at the Nicholls 10-yard line.


After a missed 49-yard field goal attempt by Dolan, Wiltz helped march the Cowboys 68 yards on 8 plays with 26 yards rushing on three carries as Dylan Long scored the first of his two touchdowns on a 2-yard run to give McNeese a 14-3 lead with 1:09 to play in the opening quarter.


On McNeese's next possession following a second straight Nicholls punt, Long scored his second touchdown on a 4-yard plunge to make it 21-3 early in the second quarter. 


Nicholls capitalized on a missed 44-yard field goal by McNeese's Ryan Rome when Kale Henderson connected with Erik Buchanan on a 42-yard pass-catch score to cut the gap to 21-10 but the Cowboys wasted little time to strike back as Rome hit from 30 and 43 yards out in the final 4:45 to send McNeese into the half with a 27-10 lead.


The opening drive of the second half was another short-distance setup for the Cowboys as Spencer's 45-yard kickoff return set the Cowboys up at the Nicholls 44.  From there it was the Wiltz show as he carried the ball in five of the six plays on the drive for 35 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown score to make it 34-10 with 11:59 to go in the third quarter.


Nicholls took advantage of a couple of big offensive plays with a 54-yard run by Dalton Hilliard and a 21 yard score from Tuskani Figaro to cut into the lead at 34-17.  On the ensuing possession, Stroud connected with Ernest Celestie for 40 yards followed by Wiltz runs of 10, 17 and a 5-yard touchdown score to make it 41-17.


The Colonels got another score with two seconds to play in the third quarter when Henderson found Buchanan from four yards out for the second time of the game to make it 41-23 after a failed PAT attempt.  That was followed by Thomas' 94-yard kickoff return score – tied as the third longest in school history and the first since an 87-yard return by Bernardo Henry against Texas State in 2010.


McNeese added its final score following a series that consisted of five rushes by Bennett with the longest being a 54-yard jolt up the middle on the series' first play.  Zach Hetrick recovered a Bennett fumble in the endzone at the end of a 17-yard run, as McNeese led 55-23 before Nicholls got one final touchdown on a 5-yard run by Henderson.


The Colonels recorded 396 offensive yards – 239 on the ground and another 157 passing.  Henderson completed 8 of 20 passes for 136 yards and two scores with an interception while Figaro went 3 of 12 for 21 yards.


Figaro led the Colonels in rushing with 107 yards on 15 carries with a touchdown.


McNeese will return to Cowboy Stadium next Saturday when it hosts Southeastern Louisiana at 7 p.m.



• McNeese scored 50 or more points for the fourth time this season which is the first time to happen in school history.

• Cody Stroud tied a school record with his 13th consecutive game in throwing a touchdown pass.

• Dating back to the 2012 season, McNeese has won six straight Southland Conference games.

• TE Nic Jacobs has caught at least one pass in eight straight games.

• The 55 points scored is the third most scored against Nicholls (63 in 2003; 59 in 1981).

• McNeese has won five straight games against the Colonels.

• With 98 yards rushing, Marcus Wiltz now has 2,173 in his career, ranked 9th on the McNeese all-time career rushing list.

• Ernest Celestie's 3 catches gives him 82 in his career – ranked 14 on the all-time list; Spencer's 3 receptions give him 73 in his career – 20th on the career list.

• Spencer's 24 yards receiving gives him 1,082 in his career ranking him 20th on the school career list.


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