KEARNEY — University of Nebraska at Kearney is in the midst of a two-game losing streak after a last-second loss to then-No. 11 Central Missouri last Saturday.
It was a shocking loss for the Lopers (5-4), who committed numerous mistakes that allowed UCM to score 17 points in the final five minutes.
At 1 p.m. today (Saturday), the Lopers will try to overcome that defeat when they face Missouri Western (7-2) in St. Joseph, Mo. The Griffons have won six straight games after losing to nationally ranked Northwest Missouri and UCM in a three-game span to begin the season.
Here are three areas to watch between the Lopers and Griffons:
Recovering from the UCM loss
With 19 seconds left, the Lopers had a chance to break a 40-40 tie against UCM last Saturday. They lined up for a 30-yard field goal, but the Mules rushed all 11 players and blocked Junior Gonzalez’s attempted.
Instead of playing it safe on their offensive possession, the Mules attempted a desperation pass, which resulted in quarterback Brooke Bolles finding a wide-open Cameron Saunders down the sideline.
Saunders waltzed into the end zone for a 63-yard touchdown with two-tenths of a second left to prevail 47-40 over the Lopers at Ron and Carol Cope Stadium at Foster Field.
The Lopers had their chances to win the game. But fumbles, dropped passes and poor pass defense kept the Mules’ chances alive and eventually allowed them to walk away victories.
If the Lopers defeated the Mules, it would have marked their second win over a ranked opponent this season. They defeated then-No. 7 Northwest Missouri 24-17 on Oct. 19.
"You just have to go back to work," coach Josh Lynn said. "You also have to pump the positives. We can’t sit there and worry about it. We have two more games left."
Missouri Western’s offense
The Griffons’ offense has played a major role in their success this season. They boast the third-best scoring offense in the MIAA, averaging 40.9 points per game, while their defense hasn’t been immune to surrendering points, ranking in the middle of the conference with 28.0 points allowed per game.
Markel Smith is one of the top running backs in the conference, ranking third with 86.9 yard per game. He’s accumulated 782 yards and 12 touchdowns on 123 attempts this season. Shamar Griffith also receives some touches each game, averaging 62.9 yards per contest.
The Griffons aren’t afraid to throw the ball with senior Wyatt Steigerwald, who has completed 57.8 percent of his passes for 2,045 yards, 25 touchdowns and five interceptions. He distributes the ball well with his top target being redshirt freshman Devon Holmes. The 6-foot-2 receiver leads the Griffons with 34 catches for 532 yards and three scores.
"They do a good job of doing what they do, which is running the ball and picking their spots when they throw it," Lynn said.
Trying to reach six wins
Lynn is in his third season leading the Lopers. In his first two years, the Lopers finished with records of 3-8 and 5-6. Last season’s five-win total was the program’s best in its seven years in the MIAA.
The Lopers haven’t shied away from their goals this season. They want to have a winning season, which would be their first since 2011 when they had a 10-2 record in their final year in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
Besides today’s (Saturday) game against the Griffons, the Lopers will wrap up the regular season with Washburn (4-5) at noon Nov. 16 at Foster Field.
"You obviously want to win more than you lose," Lynn said. "Every year you have to have steps to build on and these next two games are critical to where we want to go."