LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Sixth-ranked McNeese State will carry a three-game winning streak into Saturday's Southland Conference game against Stephen F. Austin with its eyes focused on a Southland Conference championship.
Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m. in Cowboy Stadium. For those that cannot make it to the game can listen live on Gator 99.5 FM. McNeese is tied for first with Sam Houston State and Southeastern Louisiana, which McNeese plays next week.
The Cowboys (6-2, 4-1 SLC) won their last two games on the road, three overall, and are coming off a 35-28 win at Northwestern State in a game the Cowboys put away in the first half with a commanding 35-3 halftime lead.
NSU scrapped back to make the score close in the end but the Cowboys, who sacked the Demons' quarterback five times in the first half and six total for the game, pulled off the defensive pressure in the second half while the offense committed to a running game to help run out the clock while trying to preserve an already depleted roster.
SFA (6-3, 3-2) is still in the title hunt despite falling 42-28 last Saturday against Sam Houston State in the Battle of the Piney Woods game that was played at NRG Stadium in Houston. But for the Lumberjacks to stake at least a claim to the title, they'll need to hand McNeese its first loss in Cowboy Stadium this season, then get some help from around the league.
McNeese, who played without starters Ernest Celestie (wide receiver) and Derrick Milton (running back) last week at NSU, along with minimum playing time by RB Kelvin Bennett and a hurt quarterback in Daniel Sams, had a couple of offensive linemen leave the game with minor injuries in the second half.
All but Celestie are expected to be back on Saturday with Celestie listed as questionable.
Defensively, the Cowboys appear to have a healthy unit ready to stop the league's top running back in Gus Johnson.
Johnson tops the league with 138.9 yards per game rushing and 19 touchdowns. He's coming off a 148-yard game with a touchdown against Sam Houston State last week. He's run for 1,250 yards on the season and is averaging 7.7 yards per carry.
SFA is quarterbacked by Zach Conque, new head coach Clint Conque's son. Conque has completed 175 of 282 passes for 1,924 yards with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions. He's also rushed for 411 yards and 12 tds.
As a team, the Lumberjacks are second in the league in total offense (491.4 ypg) and fourth in total defense (393.8 ypg).
McNeese will enter the game ranked first in the league in rushing offense (255.0 ypg), rushing defense (109.5 ypg), total defense (317.8 ypg), and scoring defense (20.5 ppg). The team is also ranked No. 1 with 25 sacks, opponent first downs allowed (14.6 p/g), opponent third down conversions (28.8 percent), and time of possession (33:26).
Sams leads the team and is ranked third in the league in rushing with 82.9 yards per game while Ross is ninth with a 69.5 average.
On defense, Brent Spikes is tied for first with four interceptions while Aaron Sam is tied for third with three picks.
McNeese leads the all-time series 18-13-2 and has an 11-4-1 record in Cowboy Stadium. The Cowboys have won the last two meetings, including a 69-38 win at SFA last year.