LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - McNeese quarterback Cody Orgeron threw for a career-high 354 yards and four touchdowns while wide receiver/returner Mason Pierce had a breakout game with 192 all-purpose yards as the Cowboys beat 13th-ranked Nicholls 43-31 in the final home game of the spring season.
Orgeron completed 20 of 27 passes and no interceptions for his second straight 300-yard passing game while he connected with both Pierce and wide receiver Josh Matthews 12 times combined as each reeled in over 100 yards receiving and two touchdowns apiece. Running back Deonta McMahon rushed for 111 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown.
The win evened the Cowboys’ record to 3-3 overall and 2-3 in Southland Conference play while Nicholls fell to 4-2 and 3-2.
McNeese’s defense held the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense 22 points below its season average of 53 per game and sacked quarterback Lindsey Scott a total of six times, two by Cowboys defensive end Isaiah Chambers who has five sacks in his last two games.
Nicholls got out to a hot start with a 58-yard run by Julien Gums on the game’s first play but three plays later, McNeese’s Cory McCoy forced and recovered a fumble by Lindsey to give the Cowboys the ball at their own 15.
But McNeese would turn it right back over and the Colonels would turn that into points after a 10-yard Scott to Dontaze Costly pass midway through the first quarter.
McNeese added a 42-yard field goal by Jacob Abel with 3:22 to play and the Colonels scored on a Dai’Jean Dixon 2-yard touchdown catch by Scott to give Nicholls a 14-3 lead at the end of the first quarter. On play prior to that, however, Andre Sam intercepted Scott’s pass six yards deep in the endzone and returned it the length of the field for the touchdown, but that was called back due to a late pass interference call against the Cowboys away from the play.
“I told the team ‘don’t flinch’,” said head coach Frank Wilson. “We watched the movie Rocky IV on Friday night for our team building night. We wanted them to see the adversity Rocky had to overcome and the challenges faced before him. We were prepared to take everything they were going to throw at us but also prepared to take it as well.”
That began to take shape on the second to last play of the first quarter when Orgeron connected with Matthews for a 42-yard strike and two plays later, threw his first TD of the game to Pierce for a 4-yard score, and pull McNeese to within 14-10.
After the defense came up big with two straight three-and-out series, another long completion by Orgeron, this time a 32-yarder to Trevor Begue, set up a Walker Wood 4-yard touchdown run that put McNeese on top 17-14 with 7:20 to play in the half.
Another defensive stand was followed by the game’s biggest play when Orgeron hit Pierce in stride on a post route for an 85-yard touchdown to make it a 24-14 contest.
“It was a regular post route and then everyone celebrated,” said Pierce about the fourth-longest passing scoring play in school history. “Making big plays brings confidence and everyone else steps up their game.”
McNeese led 24-17 at the half and to start the third quarter, put together a flawless drive that saw the team march 79 yards on eight plays in 2:52, ending with a 28-yard touchdown pass by Orgeron to Matthews as the Cowboys built a 31-17 lead.
During that drive, Orgeron completed all four of his passes for 64 yards while Josh Parker and McMahon combined to run for 15 more.
Nicholls followed with a 16-play, 75-yard drive that took 6:31 off the clock, ending on a Gums 8-yard touchdown run to close the gap to 31-24.
Special teams came up big early in the fourth quarter with the Cowboys leading 31-24 and punting the ball away. Nicholls returner KJ Franking muffed the kick at his own 19 and Cowboy deep snapper Carter Jenke recovered it.
Two plays later Orgeron connected with Matthews on a 13-yard touchdown strike to make it a 37-24 lead with 12:48 to play. Abel’s point after was no good but the Cowboys built back up a two-score lead.
McMahon put the game away on perhaps the play call of the game when on a 3rd-and-2 at the 33, Orgeron shifted out wide and McMahon took a direct snap out of the Wildcat formation, burst up the middle, and sprinted 67 yards for the touchdown to put the Cowboys on top 43-31.
Colby Richardson sealed the game with an interception with 2:27 to play.
“It was a great team performance. I’m so proud of this team,” said Orgeron. “Going through all the adversity and staying together, we knew our best football was ahead of us. We just had to execute. The play calls were there. I under-threw a couple of balls in the beginning and put the ball on the ground. I just told myself I gotta shake back and keep fighting and pushing.”
“We had our best week of practice,” said Wilson. “We’re very fortunate to come out with a victory against a very talented team. Hat’s off to Nicholls. They never gave up. The victory had to be earned until the final buzzer.”
Scott finished with 426 total offensive yards to lead Nicholls – 289 passing and 137 rushing while Gums added 121 yards on the ground.
McNeese rolled up 541 total offensive yards (187 rushing, 354 passing) while Nicholls finished with 562 (273 rushing, 289 passing).
The Cowboys will close out the spring season next Saturday when they visit Sam Houston.