No. 1-ranked McNeese State mercilessly pounded Idaho 33-3 in the opening round of the Division I-AA football playoffs on Saturday night before 15,736 boisterous, cowbell-ringing fans at Cowboy Stadium.
Can a team be ranked higher than No. 1? If so, McNeese State (12-0) deserves it.
Idaho, which made a miraculous late-season run to make the playoffs, made a quick exit once in them. This game went four quarters but it was essentially over when Dorain Dunmiles plowed in from 6 yards out to make it 20-0 early in the second quarter. McNeese scored on its first six drives.
“They flat took it to us,” said UI coach Chris Tormey, whose first season ends with a 6-5 record. “I expect them to win the national championship.”
McNeese entertains Delaware, which dumped Hofstra 38-17, next Saturday.
The Cowboys have a stunning collection of talent and they put it to good use.
Perhaps best of the bunch was senior quarterback Kerry Joseph. His passes, which follow the concept of the quickest path between point A and point B being a straight line, were on target. He’s quick, too, and he ducked in a 35-yard quarterback draw.
McNeese’s fleet receivers had little trouble getting open. Terence Davis was 5 yards behind cornerback Arnold Gunn on a perfectly executed out-and-up pattern and hauled in a 47-yard touchdown pass.
“The cornerback bit (on a pump fake),” said Joseph, whose passing yardage of 245 would have been in the 300s if not for a couple of drops.
“The first half was just terrible,” UI defensive coordinator Nick Holt said. “We gave up the big play, and you can’t do that. If you don’t give up the big play, they stutter and don’t do things as well. We didn’t execute what we’re supposed to do, quite honestly.”
Davis’ TD made it 30-0 halfway through the second quarter. At that point, UI had run only 16 plays.
It was a nightmare revisited for Idaho, which has lost to McNeese three of the last four years. The Cowboys’ speed burned the Vandals for numerous long gainers, as it did last year in a 38-21 win.
McNeese appears to have improved since last year. Its defense swarms to the football and doesn’t miss tackles when they arrive. Safeties Clyde Williams, Marcus Daniels and Zack Bronson have impressive closing speed.
Daniels turned in a nifty diving interception at the Idaho 22 with 6 minutes to play in the first quarter. Six plays later, McNeese had its first touchdown and a 13-0 lead.
Williams made a leaping interception off a deflected pass in the second quarter, setting up the Joseph-to-Davis 47-yard score.
“First-and-10 after a turnover,” Holt said disgustedly. “You know they’re going to go long.”
UI’s longest gain of the first half was a 17-yard run by Lavoni Kidd. Idaho had just three first downs at halftime while McNeese had 290 yards, 41 coming on a pass on the first play from scrimmage.
“We felt if we could get a big play, it would get the momentum on our side,” McNeese coach Bobby Keasler said.
Idaho, which crossed midfield only once in the first half and got nothing out of the drive when Jerome Thomas fumbled at the 13, finally scored on its first possession of the third quarter. Ryan Woolverton’s field goal made it 30-3.
McNeese answered within minutes on Jose Larios’s fourth field goal of the game, a 40-yarder. Larios, 11 of 23 coming in, hit 4 of 4.
Idaho finished with 250 yards, 176 in the second half. McNeese added only 49 after its 290-yard first half.
“A couple of their guys just outran our guys, but we’re playing zone and that should never happen,” Holt said. “I can see us giving up 17 points, not 33.”
The Vandals had modest success running the football, but were so far behind they were forced to pass.
“They’re a damn good team, period,” said UI senior quarterback Eric Hisaw, who left in the fourth quarter after taking a helmet to the biceps muscle and losing the feeling in his arm.
McNeese St. 33, Idaho 3
Idaho 0 0 3 0 - 3
McNeese St. 13 17 3 0 - 33
McNeese-FG Larios 37
McNeese-FG Larios 40
McNeese-Fields 1 run (Larios kick)
McNeese-Dunmiles 6 run (Larios kick)
McNeese-FG Larios 30
McNeese-Davis 47 pass from Joseph (Larios kick)
Idaho- FG Woolverton 25
McNeese- FG Larios 40 A-15,736
Montana 48, Eastern Kentucky 0
At Missoula, Dave Dickenson completed 31 of 39 passes for 441 yards and two TDs and ran for another score.
E. Kentucky 0 0 0 0 - 0
Montana 21 27 0 0 - 48
Mont-Branen 1 run (Larson kick)
Mont-Branen 1 run (Larson kick)
Mont-Douglass 19 pass from Dickenson (Larson kick)
Mont-Larson 37 FG
Mont-Gales 1 run (Larson kick)
Mont-Dickenson 1 run (Larson kick)
Mont-Kane 29 pass from Dickenson (Larson kick)
Mont-Larson 35 FG
EKU Mont First downs 8 25 Rushes-yards 25-41 38-123 Passing 96 467 Return Yards 131 44 Comp-Att-Int 11-26-0 35-46-0 Punts 7-41 3-41 Fumbles-Lost 7-5 5-2 Penalties-Yards 2-0 10-79 Time of Possession 21:11 38:49
INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS RUSHINGEKU, Carter 11-37, Murrell 6-22, Luginbill 4-(-11). Montana, Gales 9-55, Branen 14-54, Dickenson 5-15.
PASSINGLuginbill 9-20-0-75, Burks 0-1-0-0, Couch 2-5-0-21. Montana, Dickenson 31-39-0-441, Paffhausen 4-5-0-26, Ah Yat 0-2-0-0.
RECEIVINGEKU, Burks 5-71, Dunn 2-16, Whitefield 1-5. Montana, Douglass 10-146, Wells 5-67, Branen 5-64, Dolan 4-63, Erhardt 4-57, Kane 2-35.
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