Peter Yazvac, Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations
KEARNEY – Redshirt freshman quarterback TJ Davis accounted for 225 yards of total offense and senior inside linebacker Sal Silvio forced two fumbles and had two late sacks to help Nebraska-Kearney stun No. 7 Northwest Missouri State, 24-17, Saturday afternoon at Ron & Carol Cope Stadium at Foster Field.
The Lopers (5-2, 5-2) beat the Bearcats (6-1, 6-1) for the first time in 29 years and earn the program’s first-ever win over an NCAA Division II Top 10 team. UNK moved into the D2 ranks in the fall of 1990 with the last Top 12 win coming vs. Nebraska-Omaha (11th) in 2002.
“The message is we’re not done yet. That’s a very, very good and well coached Northwest Missouri football team. This is a win (in the past few years) our program hasn’t had. This is a stepping stone,” UNK head coach Josh Lynn said. “Our defense played lights out and gave us short fields in the early phases of the game. And turnovers might’ve been the story … we forced four turnovers including one late that got our offense back on the field. ”
Northwest entered today with a 208-32 mark over the last 18 years and with the nation’s ninth ranked rushing defense (76 yards per game). Led by Davis and three running backs, UNK rushed 60 times for 228 yards (3.8 avg.), two scores and a huge 41:18-18:01 advantage in time of possession.
Davis (Colorado Springs) had 15 carries for 100 yards and one score while going 10 of 19 in the air for 125 yards, one TD and one late interception. He reserved field and broke ankles on several plays including on a two-yard scoring scamper late in the first quarter that made it 14-0. However, his biggest run came early in the fourth when he made a Northwest defender miss then spun past another for a 20-yard gain. A few plays later junior kicker Junior Gonzalez (Corning, Calif.) booted a 29-yard field goal to make it a two score game.
“Our offense moved the ball today and put points on the board in the second half which we haven’t done against good teams in the past,” Lynn said. “It’s got to turn for you if you’re doing what’s right. Not only doing what’s right but making your players do right. One thing since I’ve been here … the players have always been hungry. You have hungry kids who work hard and good things will happen.”
Out gained 353-259 the ‘Cats didn’t go quietly as Elkhorn South graduate Braden Wright directed a 10-play, 56-yard drive that made it 24-17 with 6:45 to play. Silvio (Kansas City) stopped Wright on 3rd and 2 from the Loper 20-yard line and forced Parker Sampson to make the subsequent 36-yard field goal.
Silvio, among UNK’s all-time leading tacklers and one of many fifth-year seniors on the squad, wasn’t done yet. Northwest got the ball back with 3:28 left and at its own 29-yard line. They moved the ball to near midfield before Silvio sacked Wright for a five-yard loss. Three plays later he did it again while also forcing and recovering a fumble.
The Lopers tried to run the clock out but Davis took a 10-yard loss on fourth down and Northwest setup for a possible “Hail May” from its own 42-yard line. A “Hook-and-Ladder” was the call instead but it was quickly sniffed out by Silvio who tackled receiver LaRoy Harper, his eighth stop of the game.
Leading from starting to finish, UNK had a big first quarter that featured an interception by senior outside backer Zach Sullivan (Millard South), another forced fumble by Silvio, a 12-yard scoring pass from Davis to senior back Darrius Webb (Allentown, Pa.) and a key unsportsmanlike call on the ‘Cats after they made a stop on 3rd & goal. The next play Davis juked his way into the end zone for a surprising 14-0 lead.
“Going in I thought we had a chance if we didn’t make mental mistakes. You look at the last drive at the end of the first half … we weren’t going to quick strike. We’re going to play Loper football which is to play good defense and run the football,” Lynn said. “I thought we did that today against a good opponent.”
Kearney moved ahead 21-0 when they took the second half kickoff and marched 75 yards in 14 plays, eating 6:48 off the clock. The drive featured 13 runs and four third down conversions, the last being a one-yard plunge by Webb. UNK ended the day a solid 8 of 17 on third down.
Besides Davis, junior back Dayton Sealey (Hastings St. Cecilia) had 71 all-purpose yards on 13 touches, senior receiver Sedarius Young (Orlando) had four receptions for 95 yards and Webb and senior back David Goodwin (Lauderhill, Fla.) accounted for 84 more yards.
Limiting Wright to a 9 of 22 effort in the air for 116 yards, one TD and one pick, the Loper defense was led by Silvio, Florida senior safety LaRoy James (team-best nine tackles), Thedford sophomore inside backer Jacey Nutter (seven tackles and one pass breakup), and Columbus safety Blake Bubak (seven tackles). Finally Iowa junior outside backer Will Lansman recovered a muffed punt in the first quarter that setup UNK’s second TD drive.
Having a minus three turnover margin and committing four penalties for 39 yards, Northwest ran for 143 yards on 31 attempts (4.6 avg.) with junior receiver Imoni Donadelle having three catches for 53 yards and six points. Defensively, junior end Sam Roberts had nine tackles with sophomore rover Sam Phillips at seven.
UNK heads to longtime rival Fort Hays State next Saturday. The Tigers (5-2), two-time defending MIAA Champions, have won five straight after today’s wild 42-41 win over No. 19 Pittsburg State.