A week ago, Texas State football coach Brad Wright said he threw up before the game against Texas Southern, so little did he know what to expect from his team after it laid an egg in a 34-20 loss to Southern Utah a week earlier.
Saturday, Wright’s players gave him that game back, coming up huge to steal a critical upset at No. 3 McNeese State, 45-42. Suddenly, the Texas State season takes on a whole new complexion after the Bobcats won their conference opener on the road against the country’s third-ranked team in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).
With a win next Saturday against Central Arkansas at Bobcat Stadium (3 p.m.), the Bobcats would hold the far inside track for the Southland Conference championship, which carries a berth in the FCS playoffs.
That’s the difference eight days can make in college football. With these last two games of exploding offense, the Bobcats have risen from patsy against a team that couldn’t win a game last year to playoff contender with a lot to live for.
If one factor may be identified as the difference, the return of quarterback Bradley George would qualify. After coming off the bench last week to complete 14 of 17 passes for 281 yards in a 63-39 win against Texas Southern, George completed 30 of 47 passes for 335 yards and four touchdowns as the Bobcats outgunned a McNeese State outfit that led the nation in scoring and total offense.
“We knew coming in that we were going to have to execute offensively to have a chance to win the game,” Texas State head coach Brad Wright said. “We attacked the whole game. Defensively, we had some key stops.”
The Bobcats and McNeese State scored evenly in the first quarter, then Texas State owned the middle of the game before McNeese State scored 22 unanswered points at the end to keep Texas State fans biting their nails.
The Bobcats took their largest lead, 45-20, when Cameron Luke caught a 45-yard touchdown pass from George with 11:57 left in the game. But McNeese State fought back hard.
A 16-yard pass from Derrick Fourroux to Steven Whitehead brought the Cowboys within 45-26 with 10:56 left. Later in the fourth quarter, McNeese covered 80 yards in seven plays, using only 2:03 before Fourroux hit Todd Pendland with an eight-yard touchdown pass. Fourroux ran for the two-point conversion to make it 45-34 with 3:14 remaining.
The Cowboys stayed alive by recovering the ensuing onside kick. The Bobcats made McNeese State work harder on the resulting drive, but the Cowboys scored a touchdown with 56 seconds left when Fourroux rushed two yards for a touchdown. Whitehead ran in the two-point conversion and McNeese suddenly was within 45-42.
However, Texas State recovered McNeese State’s ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock to claim the signature win of its season.
After the two teams tied, 14-14, through one quarter, the Bobcats scored 24 unanswered points, capping the rally with George’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Daren Dillard to take a 38-14 lead with 7:46 left in the third quarter.
Though George led the way, the other key Texas State offensive stars also turned in critical production. Running back Karrington Bush rushed for 127 yards on 13 carries and Luke caught nine passes for 154 yards.
The Bobcats kicked out 580 yards of total offense, outgunning McNeese State, which totaled 572 yards. The Bobcats won the game largely with strong ball control. Not only did they finished with 35:01 in possession time, compared with 21:10 for McNeese State, but the Bobcats made only one turnover, compared with two for McNeese State.
McNeese opened the game as the heavy favorite starting the conference season on its home field against a Texas State outfit, which, according to NCAA statistics, played the country’s weakest schedule. But the Bobcats were armed for an offensive shootout and wound up outscoring the most prolific scoring team in the FCS.
The Bobcats now are 4-2 overall and 1-0 in the Southland. McNeese State is 3-2 and 0-1.