McNeese wins big in Southland Conference opener

mcneese nicholls

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Fourth-ranked McNeese stayed true to form on Saturday night in a 45-3 win over Nicholls in its Southland Conference opener.

The league's top-ranked defense didn't disappoint as the Cowboys (3-1, 1-0) held the Colonels (0-6, 0-2) to 257 total offensive yards including 70 on the ground, sacked quarterbacks Beaux Hebert and Kalen Henderson a total of six times, and forced two turnovers.

"There were a lot of good things coming out of tonight's game," said McNeese coach Matt Viator, who picked up his 65th career win and moved ahead of Jack Doland as McNeese's second winningest coach in school history. "I really like our effort and intensity."

Even when it seemed like the Colonels had something going on offense, the McNeese defense would drive them back into reality, literally.

Down 17-0 midway through the second quarter, the Colonels faced a third-and-2 and fourth-and-1 inside the Cowboys' 30 yard line and both times, the McNeese defense stuffed the run.

On the next drive, with a first-and-10 at the Cowboys' 26, Gabe Hamner intercepted an Hebert pass in the endzone.

Then with a first-and-10 at the McNeese 16 early in the third quarter, Henderson would get sacked byKevin Dorn followed by Brent Spikes that forced the Colonels into a field goal.

The defense wasn't the only side of the ball that shined on the night. McNeese's offense rolled up 567 total yards with 325 on the ground.

Quarterback Daniel Sams tipped the century mark for the first time in Blue and Gold as he led the team with 135 yards on 13 carries and a 10.4 per carry average.

His rushing total ranks tied as the fourth-highest total by a quarterback in school history and he became the first quarterback to hit 100 yards rushing since Derrick Fourroux ran for 102 against South Dakota State in 2008.

Ryan Ross, who played in his first collegiate game last week against Arkansas Tech, ran for 94 yards on 14 carries and scored a touchdown while Kelvin Bennett added 56 yards and a score.

Sams and Tyler Bolfing shared time behind center and combined to complete 15 of 26 passes for 242 yards and three scores. Bolfing hit 10 of 15 targets for 166 yards and a score while Sams threw for 76 yards and two touchdowns.

McNeese led 7-0 after the first quarter then opened up with 17 points in the second stanza to take a 24-0 lead at the half. The final scoring drive of the second quarter couldn't have been played out any better as the Bolfing marched McNeese 80 yards in 1:17 and hit Derrick Milton on a 4-yard scoring playing to put the Cowboys up 24-0 at the breat.

The opening drives of the third quarter put the game away as the Cowboys scored on a nine-play, 67-yard drive to open the second half then posted a nine-play, 74-yard drive that was capped off by a 2-yard touchdown run by Dylan Long to make it 38-3. Nicholls got a 47-yard field goal by Francisco Condado in between the two McNeese drives to give the Colonels their only points of the game.

The two scoring drives by McNeese combined to take more than half the time off the clock of the third quarter.

"We came out after the half and put together two consecutive touchdown drives," Viator said. "We challenged the kids at the half to come out with energy and we did."

A perfectly placed 33-yard pass from Sams to Khalil Thomas got the scoring going with 3:39 to play in the first quarter to give McNeese a 7-0 lead. Bennett made it 14-0 with a 14-yard run at the 11:08 mark of the second quarter and a 20-yard field goal by Alex Kjellsten put the Cowboys up 17-0 five minutes later.

A 2-yard pass by Sams to R.J. Walters made it 31-0 with 10:42 to play in the third quarter. It was the redshirt freshman's first reception and touchdown in his career.

Nicholls got 81 yards rushing by Michael Henry while Hebert and Henderson combined to complete 14 of 26 passes for 187 yards with an interception.

The Cowboys will hit the road next Saturday for the first time since the season opener when they visit Sam Houston State in a Southland Television broadcast game.