KEARNEY — University of Nebraska at Kearney football will hold its home opener against Central Oklahoma at 7 p.m. Thursday at Ron and Carol Cope Stadium at Foster Field.
The Lopers (1-0) are coming off a 39-27 victory over Missouri Southern in Joplin, Mo. and will try to start the season with two straight victories for the second consecutive year. Last year, the Lopers scored a touchdown with less than two minutes left to defeat Central Oklahoma 31-27 in Edmond, Okla.
If the Lopers win on Thursday, it would mark their first back-to-back 2-0 start since 1969-70.
Here are three areas to watch in Thursday’s matchup between the Lopers and Bronchos:
The Lopers scored on four consecutive possessions in the second quarter to hold a 33-6 lead over Missouri Southern in their first game of the season.
In the second half, the Lions’ offense shaved a 27-point lead to six. They scored on their first two possessions, while the Lopers’ offense had back-to-back three-and-outs to begin the third quarter.
The Lions added an additional touchdown in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter. The Lopers’ offense stepped up minutes later when they began a 14-play, 68-yard drive that lasted seven minutes and resulted in a touchdown to go ahead by 11 with 2 minutes, 34 seconds left.
Although the Lopers overcame their ineffectiveness in the third quarter, it’s slightly concerning for coach Josh Lynn, especially after they lost three games last season where they led at halftime. In two of those games last season, the Lopers didn’t score in the second half.
Lynn said the Lopers have to display better execution and adopt to adjustments quicker to avoid another second-half letdown.
“We have to control the line of scrimmage,” he said. “We have to handle those big defensive tackles of UCO’s to win.”
Last season, the Lopers led the MIAA and ranked ninth in Division II in rushing. Their rushing game didn’t disappoint against Missouri Southern, as the Lopers used nine players to accumulate 302 rushing yards.
Darrius Webb, a returning first-team All-MIAA selection, tallied 96 yards on 17 carries, while David Goodwin recorded 95 yards on nine carries.
Quarterback TJ Davis played the third, sixth and ninth offensive series in place of starting QB Alex McGinnis and rushed for 54 yards and one touchdown on eight carries to finish as the Lopers’ third-best rusher.
UCO nearly beat Pittsburg State
Central Oklahoma nearly defeated Pittsburg State in the first game of the season but lost on a game-winning field goal in Edmond, Okla.
The Bronchos trailed Pittsburg State 34-7 at halftime but scored four consecutive touchdowns in the second half to seize a 35-34 advantage with 3 minutes, 20 seconds left in the contest.
The Bronchos compiled 369 yards of total offense, including 212 passing yards. Will Collins is the Bronchos’ starting quarterback and he completed 14 of 24 passes for 212 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Although he isn’t the starter, one player to watch for the Bronchos is senior running back Taj Griffin. He spent his first four years at Oregon and recorded a 50-yard touchdown run against Nebraska in 2016. Griffin received four carries and rushed for 20 yards against Pittsburg State in Week 1.
Senior receiver Dustin Basks also is back for the Bronchos after hauling in 67 passes for 909 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s a 5-foot-9 speedy receiver that the Bronchos use in a variety of ways in the passing game.
Six players caught at least one pass for the Bronchos against Pittsburg State. T.J. Roberts hauled in a team-high four receptions, while Josh Moore led the Bronchos with 70 receiving yards.
Central Oklahoma will be “probably as fast as we will see in our league with their offensive skill positions with their receivers and running back,” Lynn said. “(They are) extremely fast, extremely athletic (with) a big interior front, a big defensive line.”