‘Cats drop hard-fought semifinal to No. 1 McNeese

Cailin Brophy

The Wildcat football team’s historic run came to an end this Saturday at the hands of top-ranked McNeese State in a hard-fought 39-28 loss. The Cowboys rallied from a two-touchdown deficit at halftime to put an end to the ‘Cats’ dream of a national title.

Junior B.J. Sams was the instrumental part of a 32-point outburst in the second half, which included 26 straight points. The wide receiver scored on a five-yard run with 10:19 remaining in the third as well as a hauling down a 69-yard reception from quarterback Scott Pendarvis to narrow the ‘Cats lead to 21-20 after ‘Nova defender Scott Rusnak blocked the extra point attempt. After fullback Phil DiGiacomo scored on a six-yard run with 7:43 left to play,’Nova had a chance to win when standout receiver Brian White made a tough grab deep in Cowboy territory with under three minutes left. However, the play was questionably ruled as offensive pass interference, and was one of several “mystery” calls which head coach Andy Talley addressed after the game.

“This was a game we expected to be tight and go to the wire,” he said. “I just wish the officials could have let it go to the wire. However, I don’t want to dwell on the officiating. McNeese played a great game and so did we.”

McNeese running back Jacob Prim sealed the victory for his team with a 14-yard touchdown run with 20 seconds remaining. The Cowboys, whose only loss this season came at the hands of Division I-A powerhouse Nebraska, will face Western Kentucky in the Division I-AA championship game in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The Wildcats ended their unlikely run from a predicted sixth-place finish in the Atlantic 10 to the school’s first ever berth in the national semifinals in a season just one game short of an NFL schedule, finishing with an 11-4 record.

With a 21-7 lead heading into halftime in front of the stunned-to-silence Cowboy home crowd, it looked as if the Wildcats might defy the odds yet again. Hard-nosed play by the Wildcat defense limited McNeese to only one score, a 45-yard interception run by Achille Fairchild, in the first half. Meanwhile, ‘Nova quarterback Brett Gordon had completed 15 of 26 passes for 232 yards and two touchdown strikes to tight end Matt Chila and wideout Shaz Brown, effectively using only three fingers. The fifth-year senior, who suffered a broken thumb on his throwing hand against Fordham last week, had received a shot prior to the game to numb the pain, a shot which ended up numbing his index finger as well, but was still able to lead his team’s charge.

“I didn’t feel [my thumb] at all the whole game,” Gordon said. “But it wasn’t as big of a factor as I expected it to be.”

What did play a big role was the Cowboy defense which was able to stifle the ‘Cats in the second half, just as its offensive attack was beginning to gain steam.

“They had the best defense we’ve seen all year across the board,” Gordon said.

The Cowboys’ attack, which became increasingly relentless throughout the contest, was able to wear down Villanova by the end of the game.

“The wide passes and run plays definitely took their toll in the second half,” fifth-year linebacker Jamison Young said.

Despite the loss, Talley was proud of his squad.

“Our quarterback played heroic and our defense played great. It was a terrific game, I just wish we could have that last drive back.”