Saturday night, the McNeese State Cowboys will try to head off the University of Central Arkansas Bears at the pass and sh0ot them out of the saddle as sole leaders in the Southland Conference race.
And there’s a trophy involved.
Both the Bears (6-1, 5-0) and the Cowboys (6-1, 4-1) have six-game winning streaks going into the game at First Security Field at Estes Stadium. UCA has three other teams behind them with one loss, including Nicholls, which handed McNeese its first loss in the season opener.
McNeese comes in owning one of the top defenses in FCS, a defense that produced four pick-6s last week by four different defenders in a 55-7 victory over Incarnate Word. The four interceptions for touchdowns tied an NCAA record in all divisions.
"I like watching good football and McNeese’s defense is good football," said UIW coach Larry Kennan of the SLC teleconference this week. "They get players around the ball all the time."
The McNeese State defense is averaging yielding 55.3 rushing yards per game, 2.2 per carry. That leads the SLC and is second in FCS. The Cowboys have surrendered one touchdown and 10 points in the last 16 quarters and ranked No. 1 in the FCS in red zone defense.
"They have great playmakers in the secondary and they don’t want to just get the interception; they want to take it to the house," said UCA coach Steve Campbell. "Their front guys do a good job pressuring the quarterback and the guys on the back end can got get it. They have great speed in a lot of spots on defense and on film, you don’t see many missed tackles."
McNeese coach Lance Guidy said the Bears’ offense, led by senior quarterback Hayden Hildebrand, is the best his defense has faced.
"It’s not as much scheme as size," he said. "They are good run blockers and they have a big running back (Carlos Blackman) and a scatback (Kierre Crossley) and a lot of weapons at receiver. Their quarterback is captain of the ship and cool under pressure."
The Bears totally dominated McNeese, 35-0, in Lake Charles.
"Last year, they physically beat us up," Guidry said. "We can’t do anything about our size. We rely on speed. Last year, they were more physical than us, they wanted the game more than us and they played better than us."
The Cowboys have one of the most overshadowed quarterbacks in the league in Jason Tabary, who is sixth in the FCS in passing.
The winner of the game gets the traveling Red Beans & Rice Trophy.
After McNeese, the fourth-ranked Bears, play their remaining games against the bottom half of the conference. A McNeese victory changes the complexion of the conference race.
"The trophy (Red Beans & Rice) is nice, but it’s not the trophy we’re playing for," Guidry said. "If we win, we’ll celebrate but not a whole lot because we have Southeastern Louisiana coming in the next week. We’ll put the trophy on the bus and take it to Lake Charles but that’s not the big prize and I think coach Campbell would say the same thing."