Those clamoring to relive the Reagan era got their chance Saturday at Cowboy Stadium.
For the first time since Ronald Reagan was president, Northwestern State beat McNeese at Cowboy Stadium.
A season of disappointment ended in what looked like a day of disinterest for the Cowboys in a 24-20 Demons victory.
So off were the Cowboys and their followers Saturday that those who run the cannon mistakenly fired a salvo after a Northwestern State score. The fourth-quarter misfire by the cannon caretakers signaled the end of the Demons’ invasion and McNeese dominance.
“We warned our team,” McNeese head coach Frank Wilson said. “Most surprising for us on this day is we did not match the intensity of our opponent.”
The loss was equal parts shock and embarrassment. It was also the first win for the Demons (3-8, 3-5 Southland Conference) in Lake Charles since the fall of 1988.
The Cowboys (4-7, 3-5), who finished 1-4 at home, lost three of their final four games.
“Disappointing in not being able to win in our last game,” said Cowboys senior defensive end Isaiah Chambers, who finished with a sack, the 18th of his Cowboys career in 18 games.
“We might have looked over them a bit. We didn’t look focused.”
The ugliness of the day could be found in plenty of spots.
There was the missed 29-yard field goal attempt and a missed extra point. Four points missed in a four-point game.
There were four dropped passes early that stopped any offensive momentum. And there were 11 sacks.
That’s right, McNeese quarterback Cody Orgeron was sacked a career-high 11 times. That’s not a goodbye gift anyone would want.
“We took a step back in the pass game,” Wilson said. “It was a collection of things that went wrong, not just one group.”
Orgeron finished 16 of 29 for 208 yards but the 11 sacks cost the Cowboys 61 yards. Linebacker Jared Pedraza recorded four of the sacks.
“You can’t win that way,” Wilson said. “You cannot win that way. Very inconsistent — dropped balls, poor protection.”
Curtis Williams carried 11 times for 98 for the Demons. Quarterback Zach Clement threw for three touchdowns and 176 yards on 15 of 24 passing. His two first-quarter scores sent to Kendrick Price for 7 and Jay Griffin for 56. That and a Scotty Roblow 25-yard field goal, his career long, gave Northwestern State a 17-7 lead.
Cowboys kicker Nolan Heitmeier had a chance to cut the Demons lead to seven before the half but he missed a field goal try. In four of the Cowboys’ seven losses, missed kicks accounted for the point difference.
“We let them get up on us early,” Chambers said. “We can’t let that happen.”
McNeese took the lead on its first drive when Deonte McMahon raced 39 yards for a score. McMahon had a 10-yard TD run in the third quarter to cut the lead to 17-14.
He finished with 111 yards on 17 carries before leaving the game with an ankle injury in the fourth quarter.
Clement hit Price for a 29-yard touchdown with 10:15 left in the game to give the Demons a 24-14 lead.
McNeese answered with a 15-play, 77-yard march that ended on Josh Parker’s 2-yard run with 4:11 left. But Heitmeier’s extra point kick was wide left.
Still, the Cowboys had a chance with all three timeouts remaining but never got the ball back.
“We know that cost us a chance at winning the game,” Chambers said. “We have to get a stop there and didn’t.”
And with that, the Cowboys’ home streak against the Demons was over.