by Matthew Bonnette
NACOGDOCHES, Texas – Diontae Spencer had a record-setting night for the McNeese State Cowboys to help lead the 11th-ranked Cowboys rolled to a 69-38 Southland Conference win over Stephen F. Austin here Saturday night.
Spencer racked up a school-record 365 all-purpose yards, highlighted by two kickoff returns for touchdowns and a punt return for a td. The two kickoff return touchdowns set a new single-game school record and tied a conference record while the three combined return scores tied a FCS national record.
The senior from New Iberia also caught seven passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns, all career highs.
"The coaches did a great job getting us ready for this game especially after the way we played last week," said Spencer. "Everyone did a great job with their blocking assignments on the returns and Cody (Stroud) was great with the passes."
Expected to be a track meet-type game, McNeese set a school record for most points scored against a SLC opponent while the 69 points is the second-most scored in school history.
SFA (3-7, 1-4) entered the game as the conference leader in total offense while quarterback Brady Attaway was the league leader in passing offense. Both were held well under their season averages by McNeese's (8-2, 4-1) defense. The Lumberjacks finished with 463 total offensive yards – 133 below their average while Attaway threw for 255, 118 under his average.
"We knew coming in their offense was going to be very tough to stop," said senior safety Terence Cahee who finished with eight tackles and had a big strip and recovery in the second half.
It took a couple of series to get both offenses cranked up but when they did, they ran like a well-oiled machine. The two teams scored 45 points combined in the first quarter as SFA led by 10 twice, at 17-7 and again at 24-14.
The Cowboys' first score came on a 93-yard kickoff by Spencer w ith 9:25 to play in the first to tie the game at 7-7. After a 20-yard field goal by SFA's Jordan Wiggs and a 17-yard score from Attaway to Tyler Boyd put the Lumberjacks up 17-7, Spencer struck again with an 85-yard kickoff return to make it 17-14.
SFA came right back with a 100-yard kickoff return by Mike Brooks to put the ‘Jacks up 24-14 before the Cowboys got a 2-yard touchdown run from Marcus Wiltz to cut the gap to 24-21 and end a drive that was kept alive by a 36-yard pass-catch play from Stroud to Spencer.
Stroud had a record-setting performance himself as he became the first player in McNeese history to throw for 300 or more yards in four games for a career. He finished the night 17 of 33 for 333 yards and four touchdowns and did not throw an interception.
McNeese blanked the Lumberjacks in the second half while getting scores from Ernest Celestie on a 71-yard completion, a Zach Hetrick 4-yard reception, Spencer with a 10-yard touchdown grab and a 22-yard field goal from Ryan Rome to put the Cowboys up 45-24 at the half.
McNeese added to its lead midway through the second half when Rome connected on a 23-yard field goal to up the score to 48-24.
SFA converted on some trickery 34 seconds later when Tyler Boyd found Marquis Mosley from 51 yards out to complete a reverse flea-flicker and cut the McNeese lead down to 48-31.
The Cowboys quickly responded and on second-and-9 from the McNeese 41, Stroud found Spencer for 55 yards to help set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Dylan Long and make it 55-31. Four plays later, Everett Ellefsen picked off an Attaway pass and rumbled 60 yards to the 15 yard line before fumbling the ball. Aaron Sam was in perfect position to trounce on it at the 10 yard line and on the second play from scrimmage, Stroud connected with Spencer on a corner route for the score and up the lead to 62-31.
McNeese's defense followed with three straight forces of 3-and-outs on the SFA offense and on the punt to end the third series, Spencer returned it 35 yards for the score to put the Cowboys up 69-31 with 8:36 to play in the game.
SFA would get one more score in the game when Joe Minden connected with Braxton Bearden from 11 yards out to make the score 69-38.
McNeese outgained SFA in total offense by a 498-463 margin and held a 337-330 advantage in passing yards and a 161-133 lead in rushing yards.
Wiltz led the Cowboys in the ground game with 85 yards on 21 carries and a touchdown.
McNeese will return home on Saturday when it hosts Northwestern State for senior day.
• With 333 yards passing, Cody Stroud set a new school career record with four 300-yard passing games.
• Diontae Spencer set a new single-game school record and tied a Southland Conference record with two kickoff returns for a touchdown.
• Spencer's 365 all-purpose yards is a single-game school record.
• McNeese scored 50 or more for the fourth time this season, a school record.
• Stroud threw a touchdown pass for the 15th consecutive game, extending his school record.
• Spencer's 3 td returns (2 KOR, 1 PR) ties a FCS record.
• Head coach Matt Viator won his 60th career game.
• With 8 wins, the Cowboys have the most wins in a season since winning 9 games in 2009.
• The 69 points scored are the most against SFA this season.
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