LAKE CHARLES — It was a long year.
What started with a surprise firing ended with a dominant final quarter of football. In between, there was enough drama to fill a week’s worth of soap opera viewing.
Yet in the end, the McNeese State University brass got what it wanted, a football program heading in the right direction.
“Things are looking up,” proclaimed Sterlin Gilbert after his first season as head coach of the Cowboys.
It didn’t always look that way, especially during a midseason losing skid that made it seem McNeese was more running in place than headed in the right direction.
“We went through a lot of things but we always kept fighting and stuck together,” said quarterback Cody Orgeron. “There is a lot to build on after this year.”
Winning four of their last five games, the Cowboys enter the offseason after a 7-5 campaign. But that wasn’t good enough to end a playoff drought that has reach four years.“That’s what we want, to make the playoffs,” said Gilbert. “We want to contended for conference championships and be a national power, playing for national titles.”
So this year was a first step toward getting McNeese back to that level.
Orgeron took the biggest step, improving each week and finishing with 24 touchdowns and 2,624 yards.
“Cody really worked hard to make himself better this year,” said Gilbert.
“He understood the offense every time we took the field.”
Orgeron, who will return next year, is looking forward to a big final season.
“We were close in a lot of games, that gives us confidence,” Oregon said. “We did some things early in the year that hurt us, but we learned from that.”
Orgeron found a pair of receivers, Cyron Sutton and Trevor Begue. Sutton had 67 catches for 950 yards and nine touchdowns. Begue scored 10 times behind 55 catches for 827 yards. Both will by back.
The defense stood strong, led by fifth-year senior and Barb High product Chris Livings, who finished his career with 30 sacks, one shy of the school record. Livings was named Southland Conference Defensive Player of the Year.
“It’s disappointing we didn’t make it to the playoffs,” Livings said. “We had a good year, but we came up short in what we wanted to do.”
However, after the 2018 season, which fell apart at the finish as the Cowboys lost four of their last five, Livings was happy to be part of the turnaround.
“We finished strong and I’m proud of the years here and what we accomplished,” Livings said.
“I think the program is in a pretty good place. I’ll be keeping a close watch to it and will always be a part of it.”
It’s that attitude Gilbert changed most of all, as he brought a fractured team together and heading toward the future.
“There was a lot we had to change but I like what we were able to do,” said Gilbert.
“The kids bought in and now we have to build from here.”