Kearney, Neb. – For the fourth time in the last five years the Nebraska-Kearney football team opens the fall against the Missouri Southern State Lions.
The 116th season in Loper history kicks off Thursday night (Sept. 1) at 7 p.m. from Fred G. Hughes Stadium in Joplin, Mo. Fans not in attendance can following along via ,The River 93.1/106.9 KRVN FM and live stats.
UNK, ranked in the nation’s top 15 in a series of national preseason polls, has won four straight to grab a 12-7 all-time series lead. Last year’s 38-0 win featured an unforgettable 2.5 hour weather delay with the game not wrapping up close to midnight. Thankfully, rain and lightening isn’t in the forecast this year but it’ll be hot and humid in the first half.
The Lions, led by second-head coach Atiba Bradley, are and up-and-coming program. A former All-MIAA linebacker for the Lions who previously was a defensive coordinator at several schools, Bradley has turned around MSSU in a hurry. The team went 3-8 last year and dropped four games by 10 points or less. That included setbacks to 2021 postseason participants Washburn and Emporia State.
Picked 10th in both the MIAA coaches’ and media preseason polls, the Lions are led by linebacker Richard Jordan Jr. (112 tackles), corner Dylan Bolden (five interceptions, two for touchdowns) and kicker/punter Nick Williams (All-MIAA at both positions). A young offense is led by redshirt sophomore QB Dawson Herl (21 TD’s to six INT’s), true sophomore back Nathan Glades (737 yards, five TD’s) and a starting line that averaged 315 pounds.
MSSU saw its offensive number rise as 2021 went along, going for 28 points in losses to both WU and Missouri Western. The Lions averaged 21 points per game and look to improve upon a 44% red zone touchdown rate. Defensively, Mo Southern gave up 32 points a game but forced 20 turnovers and have eight upperclassmen scheduled to start this season. Finally, Williams handled kickoff, place kicking and punting duties last season.
The Loper-Lions series dates back to 1977 when both schools were members of the Central State Intercollegiate Conference (CSIC). Unofficially, UNK is 7-2 all-time in Joplin.
UNK head coach Josh Lynn and his staff must replace half its starting lineup from a 2021 team that went 10-3 (9-2 MIAA) and reached the second round of the playoffs. Plenty of talent returns including All-American QB TJ Davis (Colorado Springs) and safety Darius Swanson (Aurora, Colo.).
Davis was one of just three NCAA QB’s (all divisions) to throw for 2,00 yards and run for 1,000 yards. The reigning MIAA Offensive Player of the Year led D2 in passing yards per completion (18.3), was second in passing efficiency (183.3) and second in rushing yards by a QB (1,151).
He works behind a line led by All-MIAA left tackle Kooper Reece (Valentine) and All-MIAA left guard Hunter Hays (McCook) with “Super Senior” Montrez Jackson (Trenton, Fla.) returning in the backfield. The offense came in at 36 points, 470 yards and 33 minutes in time of possession last fall.
Swanson had 98 tackles and four INT’s in 2021 to pace a defense that had a 68% red zone TD rate and gave up 24 points on a weekly basis. Other All-MIAA returners are inside backers Jacey Nutter (Thedford) and Zach Schlager (McCook), outside backer Atoa Fox (San Diego) and end Tell Spies (Mullen). The Lopers also have an All-MIAA punter in Hunter Kraus (Taylor).
Davis, Reece, Fox, Nutter, Swanson, Kraus and corner Jaylen Perkins Sr. (Omaha NW) are UNK’s co-captains this season. They were nominated and voted upon by their teammates.
UNK hosts No. 31 Pittsburg State next Thursday (Sept. 8) in game two of the season. The Gorillas host Central Missouri Thursday night.
Source: Regional Sports