KEARNEY – University of Nebraska at Kearney coach Josh Lynn was cautious when discussing seventh-ranked Northwest Missouri in the days leading up to Saturday afternoon’s matchup between the two MIAA programs.
He didn’t want his team to view the Bearcats as a chance to “shock the world.” Instead, he considered the game as an opportunity to play fundamentally sound football with the hope of playing competitively against a Division II power.
On Saturday, the Lopers accomplished Lynn’s objective. They also picked up their first signature win in Lynn’s three-year tenure and one that could be a programmer changer.
The Lopers scored the first 21 points against the Bearcats and fended off a second-half comeback attempt in a 24-17 upset victory at Ron and Carol Cope Stadium at Foster Field.
It is the first time the Lopers have defeated a top-10 opponent in their 29-year history in Division II, according to UNK records.
“It’s a big win for our program,” Lynn said. “We are going to celebrate this one. But also the message is, we aren’t done yet. It’s a very, very, very good and extremely well coached Northwest Missouri team. This is a win in the past our program hasn’t had. We shouldn’t treat it as an overall victory but a stepping stone.”
Northwest Missouri (6-1) kicked a 36-yard field goal with 6 minutes, 45 seconds left to cut the Lopers’ lead to 24-17. On the Lopers’ ensuing drive, they burned just over three minutes off the clock and had to punt.
After the punt, the Bearcats started at their own 29-yard and picked up a first down. But on a third-and-15 play, quarterback Braden Wright, who was once a UNK verbal commit, was sacked by Loper senior linebacker Sal Silvio and lost control of the ball. The Lopers (5-2) recovered the fumble with 1:47 left.
It was one of four turnovers forced by the Lopers. It also allowed them to run the clock down to one-second left.
“We just have to soak it in,” redshirt freshman quarterback TJ Davis said. “Yeah, we are going to have fun tonight, probably, but we just have to stay together. We have a long season in front of us still.”
On the opening series of the game, linebacker Zach Sullivan intercepted an errant pass by Wright. After a late hit by the Bearcats, the Lopers started their first drive at the Northwest Missouri 30.
The Lopers scored six plays later. Davis rolled to his left, stopped and looked towards the middle of the field and connected with an uncovered Darrius Webb. Webb fell across the goal line for a 12-yard score with 10:41 left in the first quarter.
Later in the quarter, the Lopers capitalized on the Bearcats’ second turnover. The Lopers had to punt after a three-and-out that began on their 3-yard line. Kendall Raschein’s punt bounced off the turf and nicked Northwest Missouri’s Braden Dey. The Lopers pounced on the loose ball and recovered it at the Northwest Missouri 42.
The Bearcats stopped the Lopers on fourth-and-goal but the officials whistled Sam Roberts for an unsportsmanlike penalty, extending the Lopers’ drive. They scored two plays later when Davis scampered for a 3-yard score with less than three minutes left in the first quarter.
On the ensuing drive, the Bearcats fumbled on the first play. The Lopers took over on downs but failed to add on to their lead, as place-kicker Junior Gonzalez missed a 45-yard field goal wide left.
Neither team scored in the second quarter, giving the Lopers a 14-0 lead at halftime.
“In the first half there it kind of got a little chippy there,” Silvio said. “Some personal fouls on both sides of the ball. I could tell it was starting to get a little frustrating to them.
“But we knew we had to keep it going because they were going to come back swing, coming back fighting, and we had to be able to fend them off.”
In the second half, the Lopers started with the ball and continued to exploit the Bearcats’ defense. They marched down the field with Darrius Webb capping the 75-yard drive with a 1-yard rushing score.
“It was kind of a statement drive and to put points on the board obviously helps,” Lynn said.
The Bearcats responded quickly after the Lopers’ touchdown to begin the second half. They started on their own 42-yard line and moved the ball with ease against the Lopers’ defense. They scored in about two minutes when Wright dashed for a 13-yard touchdown.
Wright completed a 38-yard touchdown pass to Imoni Donadelle as time expired in the third quarter, pulling within 21-14 of the Lopers.
The Lopers didn’t breakdown and fall apart like they’ve demonstrated in previous games under Lynn. They remained faithful to their game plan and contained the Bearcats’ offense in the final quarter.
Gonzalez made up for his early-game blunder when he nailed a 29-yard field goal with 10:44 left to increase the Lopers lead to 24-14.
“They score two quick strikes like they did, you kind of get that feeling in your belly,” Lynn said. “But that’s what a good, mature football team (does). We have had our fair share of not pulling those ones out, but hopefully we’ve learned from that.”
The Lopers will put their three-game winning streak on the line when they face Fort Hays State at 2 p.m. Saturday in Hays, Kan.
UNK 24, No. 7 Northwest Missouri 17
Scores by Quarter
NW (6-1) 0 0 14 3 – 17
UNK (5-2) 14 0 7 3 – 24
UNK – Darrius Webb 12 pass from TJ Davis (Junior Gonzalez kick good)
UNK – Davis 2 run (Gonzalez kick good)
UNK – Webb 1 run (Gonzalez kick good)
NW – Braden Wright 13 run (Parker Sampson kick good)
NW – Imoni Donadelle 38 pass from Wright (Sampson kick good)
UNK – Gonzalez 29 field goal
NW – Sampson 36 field goal
RUSHING – NW: Justin Rankin 13-70-0, Braden Wright 12-60-1, Mike Hohensee 1-6-0, Isaiah Strayhorn 3-5-0, Marqus Andrews 1-2-0. UNK: TJ Davis 23-100-1, Dayton Sealey 11-56-0, Darrius Webb 12-43-1, David Goodwin 13-29-0.
PASSING – NW: Braden Wright 9-22-1 116 yards. UNK: TJ Davis 10-19-1 125 yards.
RECEIVING – NW: Imoni Donadelle 3-53-1, LaTroy Harper 2-47-0, Marqus Andrews 2-12-0, Isaiah Strayhorn 1-3-0, Justin Rankin 1-1-0. UNK: Sedarius Young 4-95-0, Dayton Sealey 2-15-0, Darrrius Webb 1-12-1, Montrez Jackson 1-6-0, Luke Quinn 1-(-1)-0, David Goodwin 1-(-2)-0.