December 9, 2022

Dawson County Journal

Dawson County, Nebraska

Lopers Win On Opening Night

Kearney, Neb. – The Nebraska Kearney defense held Missouri Southern State to 187 yards, had its first pick six in six years and the offense grinded out 331 rushing yards as No. 13/14 Lopers beat the Lions, 24-7, Thursday night in Joplin.

This was the season-opener for both with UNK now having won five straight in the series and recording the 600th win in program history. The Antelopes/Lopers have been playing football since 1905 (116th season) with several campaigns called off and many years having just a handful of games. The overall tally is now 600-410-36.

“You talk about off-season conditioning and about what our guys do in the weight room. That and our overall depth helped us tonight. We rolled at lot people at them both offensively and defensively,” said Josh Lynn on the KRVN Radio post-game show. “We didn’t crumble and stayed the course. I know we didn’t get points on that big drive in the third quarter but we took off eight, nine minutes from the clock. We kind of leaned on them a little bit.”

UNK led 10-7 in the fourth quarter and could’ve salted things away earlier but three long drives (68, 62 and 74 yards) yielded no points thanks to two missed field goals and a Lions stand at the one on the final play of the first half. But the defense held strong all night with All-American safety Darius Swanson (Aurora, Colo.) stepping in front of a Dawson Herl pass on second down and bringing it back 18 yards for six points and a comfortable 17-7 lead. The last Loper pick six came in Josh Lynn’s debut as head coach in 2016, a 39-yarder by corner Malik Webb in a 14-3 win over Missouri Western.  

“That’s a great thing about Darius. He’s a great football player and pretty savvy .. they ran that slant on him a couple of times. He made a tackle one time, broke it up the next and then stepped in front of it,” said Lynn. “I thought our defensive front controlled things and they were getting pressure. When you can get pressure with four people that really helps you. Had it not been for that short field, we might’ve put a zero on the board.”

Running 61 times for 331 yards (5.4 avg.), UNK had to grind it out all night as an improving Lions squad kept the big plays far and few between. All-American quarterback TJ Davis (Colorado Springs) had several nice scampers to finish with a game-high 129 yards on 20 attempts with redshirt freshman back Zane Schawang (Waverly) coming alive in the second half to the tune of 76 yards on 10 totes and a nifty 32-yard scoring run that salted things away.

“Zane was a scholarship kid at the Loper Backers Banquet (in April). He’s got great vision and he’s quick enough to get into the end zone,” said Lynn. “I screwed that up (at the end of the half). I thought after a personal foul penalty the clock would stop … I was wanting to take one shot and kick the field goal. If I had to do it again, I would’ve just kicked the field goal.”

Florida super senior Montrez Jackson started the scoring with a five-yard run with Colorado junior Damien Cearns (11 carries, 59 yards) and Kearney sophomore Miko Maessner (six carries, 42 yards) also having effective performances. Finally, California super senior Junior Gonzalez botted a career long 46-yarder in the second quarter to put UNK up for good. It was UNK’s longest made field goal in six years.

“We left points on the board and we’ve got to get that fixed,” said Lynn. 

The Lions tied things up in the first quarter when All-MIAA corner Dylan Bolden broke off his underneath route, dropped back and picked Davis off on a 3rd & 11 play deep in UNK territory. Three plays later Herl scored from four yards out. He finished 12 of 27 for 105 yards with sophomore back Nathan Glades at 47 yards on 14 carries. The Lions had several drops on the night, as well as three 15-yard penalties. All-MIAA punter/kicker Nick Williams pinned UNK back several times including right before Bolden’s interception. 

Davis was 3 of 10 in the air with Albion senior Cody Nelson, Missouri sophomore JerQon Conners and Jackson having the receptions. The ball hawking defense was paced by New Mexico junior inside backer Jimmy Harrison (team-high 10 tackles), Arizona junior safety Tre O’Guinn (seven stops) and Thedford super senior inside backer Jacey Nutter (six tackles). Illinois sophomore nose guard Ovahdyah Ben-Israel had a sack with ends Tell Spies (Mullen) and Baylor Hellmuth (Hershey) combing for another.

UNK hosts nationally-ranked Pittsburg State next Thursday night at Ron & Carol Cope Stadium. The Gorillas took care of Central Missouri, 21-10, in its season-opener tonight in Kansas.

Source: Regional Sports