Marcus Wiltz led a stampede of McNeese running backs with 105 yards on 20 carries as the Cowboys' rushing unit racked up 298 yards on the ground as McNeese stunned the 18,690 fans in attendance with a 27-21 win over Middle Tennessee on Thursday night.
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Marcus Wiltz led a stampede of McNeese running backs with 105 yards on 20 carries as the Cowboys' rushing unit racked up 298 yards on the ground as McNeese stunned the 18,690 fans in attendance with a 27-21 win over Middle Tennessee on Thursday night.
The win was the third for the Cowboys (1-0) over a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) team with the other two coming against Louisiana-Monroe and Louisiana-Lafayette, both also of the Sun Belt Conference.
"It's a great win for us," said head coach Matt Viator who goes to 4-3 in season openers. "It's great to be able to come on the road at a nice place like this and beat an FBS team. It's a great win for us."
Middle Tennessee (0-1) dropped its seventh consecutive game dating back to last season where it lost its final six games of the season.
The Cowboys dominated pretty much the entire game and held a 24-6 lead until MTSU scored with 6:58 to play in the game to cut the deficit to 24-14.
McNeese outgained Middle Tennessee in total yardage by a 450-343 advantage including a 298-103 lead on the ground.
Defensively, the Cowboys had one interception, four tackles for a loss, broke up five passes but most importantly, held the Blue Raiders to six points when it could've easily been 14.
"I thought we played really well all around," said Viator. "Special teams wise, I thought we gave up too many return yards but our defense played hard. They made some really good plays."
MTSU opened the game with a 59-yard kickoff return and had a 1st and goal at the 10 when the Cowboys defense buckled down and forced a field goal.
The first two McNeese offensive possessions went for naught and MTSU had another good look at a touchdown when it had a 1st and 10 at the McNeese 16 late in the first quarter. Two straight running plays for six yards and an incomplete pass forced the Blue Raiders into another field goal and a 6-0 lead seven seconds into the second quarter.
McNeese got its offense rolling in its next possession when Wiltz, Champlain Babin, Javaris Murray ran the ball down to the 2-yard line and a 3rd and 1 quarterback sneak by Cody Stroud picked up the first. But Stroud would leave the game after being poked in the eye at the bottom of the pile and backup quarterback Tyler Bolfing came in to connect with Josh Jordan on a 2-yard touchdown pass to put the Cowboys ups 7-6.
It was Bolfing's first career pass, completion and touchdown all in one.
Stroud, who completed 10 of 17 for 139 yards and a score, returned to the game and led McNeese to another touchdown in its next possession when he hit Babin from 8 yards out to give the Cowboys a 14-6 lead.
Senior kicker Josh Lewis drilled a 46-yard field goal at the 12:00 mark of the third quarter to make it 17-6 and two possessions later, Stroud ran in from 1-yard out to make it 24-6 with 1:20 to play in the third.
Lewis' 33-yard field goal with 5:21 to play helped give McNeese some breathing room and a 27-14 lead but MTSU was quick to strike back after an 85-yard kickoff return set up a 15-yard touchdown strike to make it 27-21 with 5:01 to play.
The Cowboys were able to put together a 4:55 drive and marched the ball into MTSU territory with 16 seconds left when freshman punter Jean Breaux dropped a 36 yard punt at the 2 yard line with six seconds remaining.
The Blue Raiders used a little bit of trickery on the last play of the game before quarterback Logan Kilgore fumbled a lateral and recovered it at the MTSU 31 yard line to end the game.
In addition to Wiltz's big game, Babin finished with 64 yards rushing on 11 carries to go along with a team-high four catches for 32 yards and a touchdown.
Kilgore completed 27 of 41 passes for 240 yards, two touchdowns and an interception for MTSU while Jordan Parker led the team with 39 yards rushing on nine carries.
The Cowboys will open their home season next Saturday when they host McMurry University.