FINAL: SFA 31 MCNEESE 16
LAKE CHARLES – McNeese suffered more than its first home loss of the season while hitting a huge road block in winning its first Southland Conference championship since 2009 when the Cowboys fell 31-16 to Stephen F. Austin on Saturday. McNeese also lost the services of quarterback Daniel Sams for the season when he injured his thumb in the first half of the game.
"He's done for the year," said head coach Matt Viator. "He injured the same thumb that was hurt before he got here."
The loss of Sams changed the gameplan for the Cowboys as they were forced into more of a throwing game than the running threat they have been all season.
McNeese (6-3, 4-2 SLC) trailed just 14-9 at the half behind a running attack that rolled up 132 yards and 60 passing, managed just nine yards on the ground in the second half, and for the first time this season, the Cowboys did not rush for a touchdown.
Meanwhile SFA (7-3, 4-2) kept its slim title hopes alive by using a stout passing game instead of a strong running attack behind conference rushing leader Gus Johnson.
Quarterback Zach Conque completed 21 of 23 passes on the night for 201 yards and three touchdowns while Johnson was held to his lowest rushing total of the season with 32 yards on 22 carries for a 1.5 per carry average.
After a scoreless first quarter, Conque got the scoring going for the Lumberjacks with a 7-yard pass to Tyler Boyd six seconds into the second quarter to take a 7-0 lead. The Cowboys followed with a 24-yard field goal by Alex Kjellsten four minutes later to make it 7-3. On that drive, Sams had a 17, 22 and 1-yard run to set the Cowboys up inside the 10-yard line. That was the last time he would see the field for the game.
SFA went up 14-3 after a Marquis Mosley 1-yard pass from Conque with 2:52 to play in the half but Bolfing engineered an 8-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 13-yard scoring strike to Jereon McGilvery with 27 seconds to play. Kjellsten's point after would be blocked and the Cowboys went into the half down 14-9.
The second half belonged to Conque and the Lumberjacks' passing game. Conque completed all 12 of his passes in the half with two of those being 11 and 26 yard scoring strikes. SFA took a 31-9 lead on his 26 yard pass to D.J. Ward before Dylan Long scored the only rushing touchdown of the game on a 1-yard plunge with 4:06 to play to close the gap to 31-16.
McNeese outgained SFA on offense 339 to 286 but with 141 yards rushing, was held to 114 below its season average.
Ryan Ross led the team in that department for the third straight game as he ended the night with 61 yards on eight carries. Despite missing the second half, Sams had 48 yards on five carries.
Bolfing completed 21 of 40 passes for 198 yards and a touchdown. Long was his favorite target with a team-high seven catches for 58 yards while McGilvery pulled in three passes for 32 yards and a score.
The Cowboys return to action on Saturday when they visit Southeastern Louisiana in the SLCTV Game of the Week at 3 p.m.