October has been filled to the brim with surprises in the FCS and Saturday night another one almost came to fruition in the Southland Conference on Saturday night. Incarnate Word, who’s been the heavy favorite to represent the league in the playoffs again this year, took on a winless McNeese team in Lake Charles for what should have been a run-of-the-mill victory. The Cowboys, however, flipped that script and made UIW earn every inch of their sixth win of the year.
Incarnate Word opted not to start usual quarterback Zach Calzada who suffered an injury last week and instead went with East Carolina transfer Ryan Stubblefield. There was a clear effect early on, On the opening series, Stubblefield led the UIW offense into McNeese territory but sputtered out just on the other side of the 50 and turned it over on downs. On the next drive he only completed one pass for two yards before the Cardinals had to punt.
It was the Cowboys, invigorated by their defense, that would open the scoring in the first quarter. Quarterback Ryan Roberts and running back Joshon Barbie sliced their way through the Incarnate Word defense, getting onto the Cardinals side of the field in just three plays. From the 24-yard line, the redshirt freshman Barbie burst free for his second touchdown run of the season. McNeese led it 7-0 when the opening quarter came to a close.
Things didn’t get better from there for UIW. After forcing the Cardinals offense to punt again, the Cowboys orchestrated a 10-play, 90-yard march that would end up putting them on top by two touchdowns. Roberts connected with Jon McCall for a huge 57-yard score that electrified the crowd and stunned visiting Incarnate Word.
Aided by a big run from Timothy Carter, the Cards offense found the end zone and got one back when Isaiah Robinson pushed his way in from a yard out. It seemed like momentum was finally starting to shift but an untimely red zone fumble from Stubblefield gave McNeese the ball back. Shortly after the turnover, McCall hauled in his second touchdown of the evening to make it 21-7.
The Cowboys would tack on a field goal before the break and took a 17-point edge into the locker room.
Cardinals head coach Clint Killough decided to go with a change at quarterback in the third quarter, bringing out Richard Torres. The Cardinals first possession of the second half featured a heavy dose of Carter who carried it nine times on the drive. On a fourth and long, UIW caught the McNeese defense sleeping and picked up a big first down on a pass from Torres to C.J. Hardy. The gutsy call kept the series going and eventually resulted in another UIW touchdown. Brandon Porter caught a wide open pass in the end zone for his fourth score of the year. It was 24-14 with 4:10 remaining in the third.
Now with a shrunken lead, the Cowboys needed a clock-eating possession. Instead, though, Roberts mistakenly floated a pass too far just a few plays in and Cardinals safety Mason Chambers got underneath it for the interception. In a blink the tides were swaying back to the way of Incarnate Word and the pressure was starting to mount.
That pressure only grew in the fourth quarter when UIW cut the lead to just three. Torres danced his way over the goal line for a two-yard touchdown with 13:56 left making it 24-21 in favor of the Cowboys.
Try as they might, McNeese couldn’t recapture its first half magic and, after giving up a big sack, they had to boot the ball away again. The break Gary Goff’s team so desperately needed came in the form of a missed 48-yard field goal from UIW kicker Mason Lawler on the ensuing Cardinals drive.
With less than eight minutes to play, the Cowboys clung onto a narrow lead but the offense was still cold. Incarnate Word would keep pitching their second-half shutout and got the ball back for their offense
This time the Cards wouldn’t stutter and they took their first lead of the night. Torres hit Porter for the duo’s second score on a 36-yard pass over the middle. Porter trotted into the end zone and silenced the McNeese crowd. With 5:09 to play, UIW was on top 28-24.
As had been the story of the final 30 minutes, McNeese was unable to find any traction on offense and punted for the sixth time, giving the revitalized UIW offense the ball back for the last time. All it took was a few plays for the Cardinals to put it on ice. Despite the mighty scare, Incarnate Word found a way to escape what would have been a major upset.
It took a while for the Cardinals to find their rhythm but once they did they were nearly impossible to stop. Porter finished his big night with six catches for 91 yards and two touchdowns. Both Carter and Robinson eclipsed the 100-yard mark on the ground with Carter leading the way at 165. Torres threw three TDs and completed 11 of 18 passes.
McNeese put forth a gallant effort but they couldn’t hold momentum into the second half, resulting in their seventh loss this year. Roberts threw for 200 yards and two touchdowns but also had a pick. Barbie ran for 117 yards while McCall had 106 through the air.
Incarnate Word will hit the road again next weekend to play Lamar while the Cowboys will welcome in Northwestern State.