KEARNEY – Redshirt junior quarterback TJ Davis ran for an eight-yard touchdown with 57 seconds left, and redshirt junior safety Darius Swanson picked off a pass soon after, to help No. 23 Nebraska-Down No. 29 Washburn, 28-24, Saturday afternoon at Ron & Carol Cope Stadium at Foster Field.
The Lopers improve to 3-0 for the first time since the NCAA Playoff year of 2011 and earn its first home win over the Ichabods since 1985. WU came in having won 10 of the last 11 in the series.
“In the past, for certain reasons, I don’t think we win a game like this. It’s a credit to these guys at this table (Davis and Swanson) and it’s a credit to the rest of our players,” UNK head coach Josh Lynn said. “Defense answered the bell time and time again. We put them on short fields a few times. Overall, super proud of our effort and I’m also proud of being more multiple (offensively). Great team win.”
A back-and-forth physical game saw the ‘Bods erase a 21-14 deficit early in the fourth quarter. They tied things up with a seven-play, 64-yard drive that featured a 35-yard pass from senior QB Mitch Schurig to receiver James Letcher Jr. Schurig tallied 214 passing yards with Letcher Jr. at five grabs for 64 yards. Running back Zach Willis ran for a three-yard score after that big pass play and things were tied up with 11:54 left. WU then saw junior end Braden Rose sack Davis three plays later with end Malick Fall jumping on the loose ball at the Loper 39-yard line.
While the ‘Bods converted a field goal to take the lead back, Swanson (Aurora, Colo.) broke up a third down pass that could’ve been caught for six points by tight end Jace Williams. In the first half Swanson forced a fumble as WU went to the “wildcat”, stopping a drive inside the UNK 10-yard line.
Davis, who tallied new career-highs for carries (30), rushing yards (258), passing completions (19) and attempts (26), guided the offense down the field but the Lopers stalled at the WU 31-yard line. However, the UNK defense forced a three-and-out with Davis and Co. getting the ball back at its own 35-yard line with 4:52 left.
A 17-yard completion to redshirt junior receiver Xavier Delk (Aurora, Colo.) kept the drive alive on third and 8 with Davis calling his own number on third and 2. Davis found redshirt freshman receiver JerQon Conners (St. Louis) for a 10-yard gain and another first down but overthrew an open teammate in the end zone on the next play. But he then sauntered in for the game-winning score right after.
“TJ … it is what it is. When he needed a play he made it. We go when TJ goes and I think everyone in the stands knows that,” Lynn said.
Washburn, of course, had the home fans stir a bit as Schurig hit h-back Matthew Simmons for a 25-yard gain on the ‘Bods next offensive play. But after an incompletion and Loper timeout, Swanson made a diving pick of a Schurig deep ball.
Davis tallied three more rushing TD’s (1, 51, 8 yards), pushing his season total to seven, with redshirt freshman back Damien Cearns (Denver) adding another. Davis completed passes to nine different teammates with senior back Dayton Sealey (Hastings St. Cecilia) at three for 43. On the ground, Davis had a long run of 62 yards with his finally tally the sixth highest total for a single player in school history and the second most by a QB. Jake Spitzlberger ran for 288 in a 2011 win at Wayne State; Davis had 252 yards last fall vs. Chadron State.
“A lot of (his rushing attempts) are run-pass options. We knew we could take some shots or hit those little checkdowns. When they started flying out it created a big crease up the middle,” Davis said.
Swanson tallied eight tackles (four solo), that key pass break up, INT and forced fumble. WU started 5 for 5 on third down but was just 1 of 7 down the stretch. Also on defense, junior cornerJaylen Perkins (Omaha NW) and senior safety Blake Bubak (Columbus) had eight tackles apiece with redshirt sophomore inside backer Zach Schlager (McCook) at five.
“Darius has been our defensive player of the game for us the last two weeks. That final pick was just a staple of a good three weeks,” Lynn said.
UNK head to Central Missouri (0-3) next weekend.