LAKE CHARLES – It's been four years since the McNeese State Cowboys have played in the playoffs but the drought comes to a halt this Saturday when the 6th-seeded Pokes host No. 20/21 Jacksonville State at 6:05 in a second round FCS Division I playoff game.
The winner will play the winner of the Eastern Washington-South Dakota State game in a quarterfinal matchup on Dec. 14.
"Certainly excited about the opportunity we have," said head coach Matt Viator who will be coaching in his fourth playoff game as McNeese's leader. "I'm real excited about the way our kids came back yesterday (Sunday). We had a full practice yesterday afternoon and now we're back on normal schedule. We had a good Thanksgiving break but not we're ready to get going again."
The Cowboys (10-2) were awarded a first round bye after being named the No. 6 national seed. A bye before starting postseason play is something new to the team.
"It's great to have it," said Viator. "We were able to do a lot of fundamental work last week because we didn't know who we were going to play. It was almost like a mini-camp for us."
McNeese will be looking to snap a four-game skid in the playoffs after dropping first round games in 2003, 2006, 2007 and 2009.
"Anybody would like to win when you've lost the last few," said Viator. "I think more importantly for me, if you go back and look at those games, we didn't play good. What I hope to do and what I've talked to the players about last week and yesterday is, let's try to prepare ourselves to play as good as we can play and if it's not good enough, we'll go home. But what we want to do, my objective is, is to try to get us to play the best we can play and we'll see what happens. The common theme in those losses is we didn't play real good. Hopefully we can change that."
Jacksonville State (10-3), a member of the Ohio Valley Conference and former member of the old Southland Football League, defeated Samford 55-14 to earn its right to play in Cowboy Stadium, a place where McNeese is 4-0 against the Gamecocks.
"Jacksonville State has a really good team obviously," said Viator. "They played really good on Saturday. Their quarterback can run and throw, which is always a little scary. He's a 6-2, 200-pound kid that's a great athlete and can throw it around a little bit. The tailback is really good. His numbers are similar to (Marcus) Wiltz's, but he's a good football player."
McNeese has never lost to the Gamecocks in seven previous meetings.
"We all know historically that McNeese State is a name that you know in FCS football, and they have always been good and been in the playoffs," said first-year JSU head coach Bill Clark. "It is just a good program and if you look at their offense, you look at an offense that is comparable to Tennessee State from the way they run the ball. You add in that the quarterback is the Offensive Player of the Year in their conference and you have speed at wide receiver and a running back that has led the conference in rushing, so offensively they are good.
"Defensively, they are very solid and their record indicates how good they are, and they are pretty good at stopping the run. They have a kicker who can put it in the back of the endzone, and they have a really good returner. It is what you would expect going into the second round. They are a high seed and we know we have our work cutout for us by going on the road."
McNeese will carry an 11-14 all-time playoff record into Saturday's game while making its SLC record 15th appearance. JSU is making its fourth FCS playoff appearance and will play in its first-ever game past the first round. The Gamecocks are the first Ohio Valley Conference team McNeese has played in the postseason.