Peter Yazvac, Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations
KEARNEY – Sophomore quarterback TJ Davis ran for four touchdowns and the defense made a last minute stand to help Nebraska-Kearney hold off Pittsburg State, 31-26, Saturday afternoon in Kansas.
This was the season-opener for both teams with the game being a non-MIAA contest. UNK snaps a 12-game, 37-year losing streak to the Gorillas who were led by first-year head coach Brian Wright. The Lopers last win over Pitt came back in 1983, 27-13.
Davis (Colorado Springs), the 2019 MIAA Freshman of the Year, had scoring runs of four, one, two and one yards to stake UNK to a seemingly comfortable 31-20 lead with 6:32 remaining. The last score was setup after Pitt’s freshman punter dropped the snap deep in Gorilla territory.
However, the Gorillas got a 31-yard scoring strike from sophomore QB Max Sexton to redshirt freshman receiver Christian Carter with 1:47 left. Pitt missed the ensuing two-point conversion; they missed a kicked PAT earlier and had a 20-yard field goal blocked at the 3:25 mark.
The Gorillas seemingly recovered the following on-sides kick but UNK called timeout right before the ball was put into action. While UNK recovered the next on-sides kick they fumbled on the very next play from scrimmage.
Pitt then used completions of nine and 13 yards and then a 17-yard run to move the ball right outside the Loper red zone with around a minute left. With no timeouts remaining the Gorillas had to air it out and four passes fell incomplete. Senior corner Terrell Williams (Miami) broke up a likely TD on second down with sophomore end Tell Spies (Mullen) applying key pressure on fourth down.
“I am extremely happy with our guys. Ugly win … but an ugly win is a good win. Extremely happy with the way we prepared. First game of the year, October 31st, COVID year, went to Pittsburg, Kansas, which is an extremely tough place to play. They have a lot of tradition and we came away with the victory,” UNK head coach Josh Lynn said.
Davis led an offense that tallied 441 yards (154 passing & 287 rushing), was 10 of 15 on third down and was plus 13 minutes in time of possession. UNK had a 16-play, 95-yard scoring drive to end the first half and then went 62 yards in six plays to start the third quarter, making it 17-7. Individually, Davis carried the ball 21 times for 91 yards and runs for four scores for the second straight game.
Next, Hastings senior back Dayton Sealey had a team-best 105 yards on 21 carries with Florida junior Montrez Jackson, moving from receiver to the backfield this year, at 10 carries for 48 yards. In the air Davis was 5 of 10, completing two passes to both junior Xavier Jackson (Chesterfield, Mo.) and sophomore Michael Koch (Columbus).
“Their whole game plan was to stop (TJ). They were going to be okay with our interior run game, two yards and a cloud of dust. That’s what we have to do sometimes,” Lynn said.
The Loper defense made fourth down stops at its own five and 26-yard lines, respectively, and managed eight pass breakups. Sexton was 25 of 46 for 398 yards and three scores with his favorite targets being Carter (eight recep., 153 yards, one TD) and redshirt freshman Dylan White (five recep., 105 yds., one TD). Backs Drew Winn and Tyler Adkins combined for 132 rushing yards on 25 carries.
“In the red zone we blocked a field goal, got a stop on fourth-and-one. The other bright side was our special teams was better than theirs today,” Lynn said.
Columbus senior safety Blake Bubak had a team-high nine tackles with Williams at five stops and three PBU’s. Next, Omaha sophomore defensive back Jaylen Perkins had five solo tackles while Thedford junior inside backer Jacey Nutter and Gretna senior nose guard Shane Henderson having UNK’s tackles for loss.
“Every once in a while you get too riled up and excited in the first game. We had some busts and turnovers. However, for the most part we were in control and the in-charge football team. First half we were on the short field but dug out and changed field position on them,” Lynn said.
UNK hosts Chadron State (1-1) next Saturday at 3 p.m. The Eagles were at South Dakota Mines on Saturday afternoon.