Peter Yzavac, Associate Athletic Director for Media Relations
KEARNEY – The Nebraska-Kearney defense made a fourth down stop with nine minutes to go and then the offense drove 68 yards in 14 plays to put away Missouri Southern State, 39-27, on a muggy night in Joplin, Mo.
The Lopers win a third straight season opener for the first time since 2000-2002 and also beat the Lions for a third consecutive season. Finally, this was UNK’s first road season opening win in the MIAA era (2012-present).
The Blue & Gold blasted MSSU 45-0 last season and it seemed there may be a repeat performance as the Lopers scored 26 second quarter points to lead 33-6 at the break. UNK scored touchdowns on four straight drives in the quarter, amassing 273 yards in the process.
However, former Georgia and Iowa State quarterback Jacob Park shook off two years off rust in the second half and had scoring tosses of 26, 29 and 93 yards to make it a 33-27 game with 13:42 to play. At the same time the Loper offense was forced to punt on four straight drives where they ran a total of 15 plays.
MSSU was driving for the go-ahead score when Park was called for a key intentional ground penalty on 1st and 10 from Loper 35-yard line with about 10 minutes remaining. Former Virginia Tech QB Dwayne Larson, now a receiver, picked up 17 receiving yards over the next two plays but a fourth down crossing pass fell harmlessly to the ground as a Lion receiver and UNK defensive back ran into each other.
The Lopers then had its best offensive drive of the second half converting three third downs, the last being a two-yard run up the middle by senior QB Alex McGinnis (Crete). The fifth-year senior had himself a first half, having scoring passes of eight, 10 and 31 yards to go 11 of 12 for 166 yards.
UNK ended the night out gaining MSSU by a 492-410 margin. Running 13 more plays, the Lopers had a huge 40:02-19:58 advantage in time of possession. Not surprisingly, Kearney did most of its work on the ground (302 yards) with Park completing 19 of 41 passes for 351 yards. He did throw two interceptions with one leading to seven Loper points.
A balanced UNK attack saw nine different ball carriers, six Lopers catch a pass and redshirt freshman QB TJ Davis (Colorado Springs) leading several series. Senior backs Darrius Webb (Allentown, Pa.) and David Goodwin (Lauderhill, Fla.) had 96 and 95 yards, respectively, with Goodwin also being the top receiver. He totaled 52 yards and one score on four receptions. Webb (30) had the team’s longest run of the night with Davis adding a 26-yard gallop.
McGinnis finished 14 of 17 for a career-high three TD’s, no INT’s and 30 rushing yards on 14 carries. Next, Davis had 54 yards and a score on eight carries with junior back Dayton Sealey (Hastings) and sophomore tight end Zach Blaschko (Kearney) having TD catches. Finally, sophomore Montrez Jackson (Trenton, Fla.) picked up an errant and bouncing pitch and ran 10 yards for a first half score.
Park completed passes to six different teammates with the 6-7, 220 pound Larson (6 recep., 179 yds., two TD’s) being a huge problem. The Lion ground game was held in check to the tune of 59 yards on 23 carries (2.6 avg.).
Once again the Loper defense was paced by 2018 All-Region inside linebacker Sal Silvio (Kansas City) who had a team-best seven tackles including 1.5 sacks. Senior end Hinwa Allieu (Gaithersburg, Md.) had five stops and a late fourth quarter sack with junior corner David Tolentino Jr. (Sacramento, Calif.) and sophomore safety Blake Bubak (Columbus) picking off Park. Finally, redshirt freshman corner Armani Webster (Chicago) had three solo tackles and a late fumble recovery on a bobbled punt.
UNK hosts Central Oklahoma next Thursday night. The Bronchos also almost came all the way back, trailing 34-7 to Pittsburg State but falling at home, 37-35, on a 20-yard field goal as time expired.