KEARNEY — A lack of second-half execution continued to haunt University of Nebraska at Kearney football team Thursday night.
A week after the Lopers allowed Missouri Southern to score 21 second-half points and nearly overcome a 27-point lead, the Lopers had a similar stumble against Central Oklahoma. They surrendered 21 points to the Bronchos in the fourth quarter in a 28-23 loss at Ron and Carol Cope Stadium at Foster Field.
In the second half, the Lopers’ offense scored 13 points, but they had four of their final five possessions end without any points. They missed a 34-yard field goal and had one drive end after one play due to a fumble.
“I think we battled,” UNK coach Josh Lynn said. “I think what it boiled down to was eventually, there early in the fourth quarter, it was the big plays. They had two long passes. Our punter did a good job of pinning them down deep in the field, and we let them out of jail a couple times with a couple long passes.
“Then you flip sides there, and we had a couple drops on the offensive end that we should’ve caught and that changes the outcome of the game.”
Thursday’s loss was nearly a mirror image to last season when the Lopers lost three games where they led at halftime.
It appeared the Lopers (1-1) wouldn’t suffer a second-half letdown when senior running back Darrius Webb scurried into the end zone for an 8-yard score to increase their lead to 17-7 with about seven minutes left in the quarter.
On the Bronchos’ ensuing possession, the Lopers caught a break. Receiver Mekail Hall raced past UNK cornerback David Tolentino and quarterback Will Collins connected with Hall for a 50-yard score. The touchdown didn’t count, however, as the officials flagged the Bronchos (1-1) for a penalty.
After regaining possession, the Lopers moved the ball 63 yards in eight plays, but the drive ended on a missed 34-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Junior Gonzalez.
The Lopers never recovered after the missed scoring opportunity. They had a three-and-out, fumble and a five-play drive that saw the Lopers march 51 yards but end on the UCO 28.
The Lopers scored a desperation 6-yard passing touchdown with 51 seconds left.
The Bronchos capitalized on the Lopers ineffectiveness. They scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, including a 2-yard run by quarterback Chandler Garrett that capped an eight-play, 93-yard drive and put the Bronchos ahead 21-17 with 5 minutes, 9 seconds left.
“Everything all boiled down to execution,” UNK senior inside linebacker Rakid Hill said. “Getting to your assignment and just following through everything. We had them down. Halftime we were up. We just have to come out and step on their necks, and we just didn’t finish.”
In the first half, the Lopers dominated the possession, holding the ball for almost 10 minutes more than the Bronchos.
On the Lopers’ first play of their first offensive series, senior quarterback Alex McGinnis connected with senior receiver Sedarius Young for a 39-yard reception. It put the Lopers in the Bronchos’ territory and eventually led to a 25-yard field goal by Gonzalez.
The Bronchos swiftly responded. Bronchos’ receiver Amonte Phillips capitalized on broken coverage to haul in a wide-open pass and dash into the end zone for a 40-yard touchdown.
Over the following 23 minutes of the first half, the Lopers had chances to cut into the Bronchos’ early lead. They missed a 42-yard field goal and failed on a fourth-and-7 from the UCO 30-yard.
It wasn’t until about midway through the second quarter that the Lopers’ offense stitched together a scoring drive. Webb finished an eight-minute, 80-yard drive with a 1-yard TD run to push the Lopers ahead 10-7.
In the game, the Lopers recorded 504 yards of total offense compared to the Bronchos’ 379. McGinnis threw for 231 yards and one touchdown. Young paced the Loper receivers with four catches for 160 yards.
The Lopers rushed for 244 yards with Webb leading the group with 25 carries for 79 yards, two touchdowns and one fumble.
“It was big for me tonight,” said Young, who redshirted last season. “I was prepared. The coaches made sure I was ready and healthy and everything. I knew I was a leader at the receiver so I just had to step up and make plays when my number was called.”
After the game, Lynn said the Lopers will reevaluate the place-kicker position. It was one of the team’s biggest position battles throughout the preseason with Gonzalez, a junior college transfer, beating out senior Treygan Gowen.
But after Gonzalez missed two point after touchdowns in Week 1 and two field goals on Thursday, his starting position might be in jeopardy.
“We need to open it up and have a good competition there,” Lynn said. “We have to go to work with that unit. That unit has to get better.”
Up next, the Lopers face Emporia State at 2 p.m. Sept. 21 in Emporia, Kan. The Hornets eased past Northeastern State in Week 1 and play No. 23 Pittsburg State on Saturday in Pittsburg, Kan.