LAKE CHARLES, La. — During the first quarter, Arkansas-Pine Bluff freshman Jamie Smith was having a breakout performance.
The running back from Camden Fairview had scored on a 7-yard run and broke a 50-yard dash to end the quarter and set up UAPB’s next score. But those two touchdowns were all the Golden Lions could muster as McNeese State proved nearly unstoppable in a 58-14 victory Saturday night.
Smith had 90 yards on 15 carries, a week after the entire Lions team was held to 12 yards on 31 carries at Arkansas State. But Smith learned from the experience of his first game.
“The speed of the game is a little different from high school, and I just made the transition,” Smith said.
While the Lions’ ground game greatly improved from last week, it was not enough to keep up with the engine that is the 18th-ranked team in The Sports Network FCS Top 25, which was coming off a historic 53-21 win at South Florida.
McNeese rolled up 528 total yards, getting 115 yards and three touchdowns from Marcus Wiltz on 12 carries. The Cowboys scored on eight of its first nine drives, with only a missed 44-yard field goal by Ryan Rome breaking perfection.
“I did see a lot of missed tackles in this game again,” said UAPB coach Monte Coleman, who’s now 29-29 overall in his sixth season. “We practice hard every day to be in the right position. … For whatever reason, we’ve got to go back to the drawing board and see what we can do to ensure we will get them down once we make contact with them.”
Coleman said much of the Lions’ attrition affects his defense. Not all players travel for road games, and a number of Lions are still unavailable because they have not yet been cleared for unspecified reasons.
Coleman said of the attrition: “That’s an excuse and I don’t make excuses. I don’t give the kids an opportunity to make excuses, and I’m not going to make any for ourselves.”
Smith got the start in only his second career collegiate game, mainly due to senior Justin Billings and sophomore Aaron Lagrone still not being cleared. He was contained for no more than 2 yards on his first two carries as McNeese State held on to a 7-0 lead, but he got the call on first-and-goal from the 7 and punched it in to even the score.
“We’re very pleased with what Jamie is doing,” Coleman said. “When other guys are not here, when you don’t have Lagrone, when you don’t have Billings, then other guys have to step up.”
The touchdown was set up by a 40-yard completion from Ben Anderson to Louisiana-Lafayette transfer Brandon Kensey and a face mask. And it was much needed for the Lions after being forced to punt on the opening series and an interception on their next drive.
Poor field position didn’t faze the Cowboys, who started two of their drives from their own 10 and 12. Cody Stroud completed 5 of 5 passes on the 90-yard march that put the Cowboys up 14-7, but Smith’s 50- and 13-yarders aided UAPB’s next series, capped by a 2-yard tote by another freshman, Dollarway alumnus Jeremiah Young.
But the Cowboys took off from there. Diontae Spencer returned the following kickoff 80 yards to set up a three-play, 17-yard go-ahead drive.
They added two points when defensive tackle Kevin Dorn forced an Anderson fumble as he tried to throw forward, and linebacker Bo Brown could not recover the fumble before it rolled out of the back of the end zone. UAPB was forced to punt on its next five series and Anderson threw his second pick on the Lions’ final drive.
Stroud completed 21 of 30 passes for 251 yards for McNeese. Anderson was 13 for 25 for 110 yards, but was sacked three times.