KEARNEY – Redshirt junior quarterback TJ Davis ran for three more touchdowns and the defense limited Missouri Southern State to 184 total yards as Nebraska-Kearney won its season opener, 38-0, Thursday night at Ron & Carol Cope Stadium at Foster Field.
The game was slated for a 7 p.m. kickoff but inclement weather pushed things back almost 2.5 hours. UNK’s fourth straight win over the Lions ended just before midnight.
“Give credit to our athletic training staff and our lightning monitors I guess. We were wanting to get it in but had a contingency plan to play tomorrow (Friday) at 11 a.m. Thanks goodness the storm moved out,” UNK head coach Josh Lynnsaid. “It’s hard for the guys to go out there and get warm and ready for a game and then come in here (locker room) and wait another two hours to play. I thought we handled it as well as we possibly could.”
The Lopers are riding a four-game winning streak over the last 657 days. During that stretch UNK has run for 1,654 yards (413.5 avg.) and 19 TD’s. Davis (Colorado Springs) has accounted for a lot of that production to the tune of 630 yards and 14 scores. He is well on pace to break Jake Spitzlberger’s school-record for career rushing yards by a QB (2,496), currently just 981 away. Tonight he had 139 yards on 15 totes, his eighth career 100-yard effort.
“We didn’t what was going to happen … play tomorrow, play tonight. I needed a game because I haven’t been hit in a year. I’ll definitely be sore tomorrow but it’s good to be back out there,” Davis said. “I feel like it’s the game plan. The coaches set us up and put us in great positions. What we saw tonight is what we saw on film. We knew exactly what we were going to get.”
A young MSSU team lead by first-year head coach Abita Bradley surprised Kearney a bit in the early going, having drives of 34 and 36 yards, respectively. The Lions first 19 offensive plays also ate up nine minutes off the clock and then the defense stopped Davis on a fourth and goal in the opening quarter.
“We started as well as we possibly could. We maybe got a little stagnant in the second quarter but some of that was because we had the ball just one time in the first quarter,” Lynn said. “You’ve got to get a feel for the game and it’s hard to do that when you’re only touching the ball one time.”
UNK tallied TD’s on its next two drives, Davis capping the first with a nifty 32-yard scamper on 3rd and 7 and then plunging in from a yard out on 4th and goal. That made it 14-0 right before the half. After a 24-yard field goal from senior Junior Gonzalez (Corona, Calif.) in the third, UNK tacked on two more TD’s over the final 15 minutes.
“They are an improved football team (MSSU went 2–9 in 2019). I probably should’ve gone ahead and kicked the field goal to get points on the board. But I thought we could punch one in,” Lynn said. “TJ has developed as a total quarterback … when he came in here as a freshman he just liked to run around all over the place. He’s developed his arm and is comfortable in the pocket. That’s a credit to him and the hard work he’s put in.”
A 32-yard completion from Davis to redshirt freshman slot receiver JerQonConners (St. Louis) setup a 17-yard scoring run by redshirt senior back MontrezJackson (Trenton, Calif.) to start the fourth. UNK then capped things with a reserve unit marched 86 yards in 12 plays, getting a 29-yard pitch and catch from redshirt freshman QB Jacob Green (Frederick, Colo.) to redshirt junior receiver Michael Koch (Columbus) with about two minutes left.
“It’s a credit to our men (another 500-yard offensive night). I’m super proud of that (reserves production). A lot those guys have been in our program three or four years. They work hard in practice,” Lynn said. “They’ve had a million reps at doing what we do. They are a good unit back there.”
UNK’s defensive held the Lions to 124 rushing yards on 36 carries (3.4 yards) and just 60 passing yards. This is Kearney’s second straight home shut out ofMSSU (45-0 in 2018) with the yardage total the second fewest in the MIAA era (2012-pre.). Lincoln was held to 147 in a 2019 Loper win.
Thedford redshirt senior inside backer Jacey Nutter had a team-high seven tackles with redshirt junior safety Darius Swanson (Aurora, Colo.) at six. Both had 1.5 TFL’s. Next, graduate nose guard Shane Henderson (Elkhorn) and super senior OLB Travis Holcomb (Cairo) both had five tackles with 12 others having between two and four. Finally, freshman kicker Kyle Failing (South Kitsap, Wash.) had three touchbacks among seven kickoffs (59.9 avg.).
MSSU got 63 yards from freshman back Nathan Glades with junior linebackers Coleman Booker (12) and junior Richard Jordan Jr. (11) combining for 32 tackles.
“They were a physical o-line. Initially we were almost flying too fast to the football. We were over pursing a couple of things … we just had to take a step back and slow down and make our tackles,” Henderson said. “We bowed our neck when we got into some fourth down situations. And credit goes to Coach (Levi) Gallas and the defensive staff. We were dialed in. All fall camp we anticipated they would come out in 12 personnel and that’s exactly what they did.”
UNK heads to “The Jungle” next Saturday night (Sept. 11) to face the Pittsburg State Gorillas. Pitt pulled a mild upset tonight at No. 11 Central Missouri, 35-16.