KEARNEY — For the second time in program history, University of Nebraska at Kearney football will play in a postseason bowl game.
The Lopers (6-5) dropped their final game of the regular season to Washburn, but it didn’t keep them from making their 12th postseason appearance in their 113-year history.
The Lopers will face Winona State (8-3) in the Mineral Water Bowl at noon Saturday in Excelsior Springs, Mo.
Here are three areas to watch between the Lopers and Warriors:
Lopers turning it around
UNK has experienced a remarkable turnaround under coach Josh Lynn, who’s in his third year at the helm of the program. In the two years prior to Lynn’s arrival, the Lopers won one game. He’s led the Lopers to a three-win season, five-win season and now a 6-5 record this year, which is their first winning mark since 2011.
The only other bowl appearance came in 1955 when then-Nebraska State Teachers College defeated then-Northern State Teachers College in the Botany Bowl at Shenandoah, Iowa.
The additional game after their regular-season finale loss to Washburn allowed the Lopers to have nine extra practices and give their younger players additional repetitions.
“That’s crucial,” Lynn said. “Any kind of live practice reps that you can get to evaluate and get the young ones on film and evaluated and more reps is huge.”
Last time on the field
The Lopers haven’t suited up and played in a game since a 57-41 loss to Washburn on Nov. 16 at Ron and Carol Cope Stadium at Foster Field.
Against Washburn, the Lopers surrendered 21 first-quarter points. The Lopers never overcame the woeful start, as they were outgained 657-506 in total yards by the Ichabods.
In that unexpected loss, the Lopers seemed fazed by the talk of a potential bowl game. They managed to earn a bowl bid, despite the loss, and hope to finish their season on a positive note.
“We have some guys who also didn’t play their best football in that last game,” Lynn said. “We are excited to get back on the field and have one more game to get that bad taste out of our mouth.”
The only meeting between the Lopers and Warriors came in 1994 when an eight-win Loper team fell 50-34 against the Warriors at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minn.
The Warriors, who compete in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, won six of their final seven regular-season games. They averaged 28.3 points and 344.6 yards while allowing opposing teams to tally 16.6 points and 368.1 yards during the regular season.
The Warriors have a respectable rush defense, allowing 128.5 yards per game, but have been susceptible to the pass, as opposing teams have averaged 239.6 yards per game through the air.
The Lopers are a run-heavy team with 330.8 of their 473.9 total yards per game coming via the rushing attack.
“No one does what we do on offense and defense,” said Lynn on the Lopers’ run-heavy approach. “I think there is something to being at Kearney, Nebraska and being different.”