January 30, 2023

Dawson County Journal

Dawson County, Nebraska

Lopers Win 4th Straight

Kearney, Neb. – Redshirt senior quarterback TJ Davis ran for 162 yards and two touchdowns to lead No. 24/14 Nebraska Kearney over Missouri Western State, 39-18, Saturday afternoon in St. Joseph.
UNK moves to 5-1 (5-1) while the Griffons, on “Homecoming”, drop a fourth straight game (2-4).

The Lopers never trailed as they moved 86 yards in three plays to start the game. A 59-yard option run by Davis (Colorado Springs) started the scoring with holder/punter Hunter Kraus (Sargent) tossing a shovel pass to outside backer Willie Fair (Chula Vista, Calif.) on the PAT to make it 8-0.

“I was really worried about this one. Their defensive front and the dual threat quarterback really had us worried,” said UNK head coach Josh Lynn on the KRVN radio post-game show. “We know going in it was going to be a four-quarter game. What I’m most proud of is how we played together … defense played lights out in the second quarter and forced a fumble,  special teams recovered a muffed punt right before half and our kickoff team pinned them back all day and made them have to grind.”

MWSU responded to that quick TD with an 11-play, 65-yard drive to make it 8-7 but a 39-yard field goal from senior Junior Gonzalez (Corning, Calif.) extended the Loper lead. The three-pointer capped an 11-play, 65-yard drive that featured two third down conversions and took six minutes off the clock.

UNK then took advantage of a muffed punt as MWSU lost 27 yards on 4th & 10 from the Loper 42-yard line. A three-play drive featured a 20-yard run by Davis and a six-yard scoring scamper from junior back Damien Cearns (Denver).  

MWSU started the second half with a 12-play, 44-yard scoring drive that ended with a field goal. UNK countered with a 77-yard march that featured two 3rd & 3 conversions and a 23-yard scoring pass from Davis to junior slot Bailey Torres (Cerritos, Calif.). Davis reached 4,000 passing yards today (4,070) after getting to 3,00 rushing yards (3,301) earlier this fall.

The Loper defense followed with an interception, a stop and then a turnover on downs after MWSU tallied a score midway through the fourth quarter. Davis followed the INT with a four-yard TD run that capped a short 30-yard drive. Senior corner Jaylen Perkins Sr. (Omaha NW) had the INT with senior ILB Jacey Nutter (Thedford) reaching the 200-career tackle mark. He becomes the 19th Loper since 1990 to reach that milestone (205). 

“With the explosive offenses in our league, that’s what you have to do (limit the big play). If you get to aggressive, they’ll capitalize,” said Lynn. “When they get into the red zone they have to simplify a little bit and that lets us kind of hit the green light a little bit. That’s been our approach since Pittsburg State (second game of the year). We’re going to limit the big play and tighten up once they hit the 35-yard line. “

MWSU out gained UNK, 428-340, as it ran 82 plays to the Lopers 55. However, the Blue & Gold managed 250 rushing yards and 6.0 yards per carry with Davis an efficient 7 of 13 for 90 yards through the air.

Davis reached his rushing total in 18 carries with seven others having at least one carry, led by veteran back Montrez Jackson (Trenton, Fla.) who managed 43 yards and a TD on four totes. Torres (four recep., 35 yds.) was one of eight Lopers targeted in the pass game with safety Darius Swanson (Aurora, Colo.) and ILB Jimmy Harrison (Hobbs, NM) combining for 21 tackles. Nutter (Thedford) added nine more as MWSU was 9 of 19 on third down and 0 for three on fourth down.

Sophomore QB Reagan Jones was busy for the Griffs, carrying the ball 19 times for 103 yards while going 17 of 33 for 244 yards in the pass game. Veteran receiver Traveon James was targeted 15 times and had eight catches for 169 yards with a long grab of 55 yards. Linebacker Anthony Villenueva led the Griff defense with 2.0 tackles for a loss of 13 yards. UNK hosts Emporia State (4-2) next Saturday at 1 p.m. The Hornets got by Central Missouri, 44-27, at home today.