Peter Yazvac, Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations
KEARNEY – Sophomore quarterback TJ Davis ran for three more touchdowns and directed an offense that churned out 541 yards on the ground as the Lopers held off Chadron State, 45-35, Saturday afternoon at Ron & Carol Cope Stadium at Foster Field.
This was the 72nd all-time meeting in a series that dates back 99 years. UNK (2-0) has now won four in a row over CSC (2-2) to grab a 50-21-1 advantage. Prior to today the two hadn’t met on the gridiron since 2011.
“What I liked about today was seeing all the alumni. I haven’t been associated with this rivalry … leading up to this game I could feel the rivalry with all the conversation and text messages,” Loper head coach Josh Lynnsaid.
UNK led from start to finish and by scores of 21-7, 31-14 and 38-21. However, the Eagles had back-to-back touchdown drives encompassing the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth to make it a 10-point game. Since 19990 13 of the 19 meetings between these two have been decided by 10 points or less.
“The (option game and running the ball) is what we do. We were really comfortable with the look we got from them … they kind of took TJ away in the second half. Once again, we went back to our backs,” Lynn said. “We’re really pleased with all three phases.”
Davis (Colorado Springs) ran for four TD’s in last year’s Mineral Water Bowl win and in last Saturday’s victory at Pittsburg State. Today he has scoring scampers of nine, 79 and nine yards as part of 20-carry, 252-yard day. Running for over 200 yards in the first half alone, the tally is the fifth highest in school history and the second-best effort by a Loper QB.
“Definitely way more comfortable (in year two). The guys always pick me up and tell me how good of job I’m doing. That’s motivation for me to get better. And as the quarterback if I’m getting better the team’s getting better,” Davis said. “(The first half running lanes) Huge shoutout to our receivers. They are doing a great job of blocking on the perimeter. Coach always emphasizes that if we’re going to be an option-based team you have to have guys willing to step up and block on the outside.”
A 59-yard completion from Davis to sophomore back Joe Stiffend (Plainfield, Ill.) was one of the game’s key plays. It came 2nd and 13 from the Loper 32-yard line and right after Chadron made it a 38-28 score. Stiffend got free on a wheel route down the right sidelines with Davis adding his final TD run two plays later. While the Eagles scored again, that drive ate up six minutes with the Loper offense responding with two first downs to run 3:20 more off the clock.
“I was extremely proud of the big passing plays. We executed like we need to execute,” Lynn said. “Good job by Joe reeling it in and we’re better when we can pick when we throw. Not when we have to throw.”
The 541 rushing yards came on only 55 carries (9.8 avg.) with seven different Lopers carrying the ball. The final tally ranks third most in Loper lore, trailing only efforts of 599 yards (1966 at Chadron) and 593 yards (2019 vs. Northeastern State). Hastings senior back Dayton Sealey (87) and Fremont backup QB Riley Harms(84) both cracked 80 yards with Colorado true freshman back Damien Cearns having a 67-yard scoring bust on his first collegiate carry.
Cearns big run made it 21-7 late in the first quarter and a 38-yard field goal by junior kicker Junior Gonzalez(Corning, Calif.) right before halftime pushed the lead to 31-14. The Chadron offense, which ran 10 more plays than the Lopers to hold the ball for seven more minutes, was stopped out of the locker room. UNK responded with a nine-play, 61-yard march that ended with a 27-yard Davis scoring strike to Colorado junior receiver D’angelo Shepherd.
Out gaining Chadron by a 627-478 margin, UNK punted only once but was stopped twice on downs inside the Chadron 30-yard line.
“Very impressed with Chadron offensively and (head coach) Jay Long’s football team. It was a rivalry game so we knew both teams were going to give their best effort,” Lynn said. “Big physical offensive line for Chadron and a big physical back. Proud when the defense got a stop and then our offense responded. That’s what good teams do.”
The Eagles saw record-setting QB Dalton Holst go 22 of 33 for 286 yards and three scores. He was sacked five times but completed passes to eight teammates. Junior receiver Montel Gladney had five grabs for 116 yards that including a 74-yard scoring grab in the second quarter. Next, UCLA transfer Jaylen Starks rumbled 18 times for 125 yards and two TD’s. The 250-pounder had a long run of 24 yards with 160 pounds true freshman Jeydon Cox running hard to the tune of 80 yards on 12 totes.
“With COVID and injuries every team is playing a little bit short-handed. Getting some guys back will help us … however we responded and got the win,” Lynn said.
UNK’s defense forced the Eagles to punt four times with its last sack resulting in a fumble recovery. Junior inside backer Jacey Nutter (Thedford) tackled Starks on more than once occasion and tallied a team-best 14 overall. Chicago sophomore safety Sethe Holt had nine tackles and two pass breakups with California junior inside backer Heamasi Latu III recording eight tackles. Finally, Elkhorn sophomore outside backer Carson Pilkington was a demon on the kick cover team to record four tackles.
The Lopers head to South Dakota Mines (2-2) next Saturday while Chadron concludes 2020 with a game at Black Hills State. Both of SDMT’s losses came to Chadron.