Big plays lift Lopers in dominant 38-6 win over Central Missouri
Kearney, Neb. – Redshirt senior quarterback TJ Davis rushed for 191 yards and three touchdowns on just 15 carries and the Nebraska Kearney defense was strong in the red zone in a 38-6 win over Central Missouri Saturday afternoon at Ron & Carol Cope Stadium at Foster Field.
The No. 25/19 Lopers (3-1) beat the Mules (0-4) for a second straight year and for the first time at home since 1973. This was a "Homecoming" of sorts as UCM head coach Josh Lamberson (2015-16) and UCM receiver Xavier Jackson (2019-20) were both previously at UNK.
"I was extremely happy how we prepared this week. This outfit really worried me … they've shown glimpses and have already played three of the better teams in the conference," said UNK head coach Josh Lynn on the KRVN radio post-game show. "We knew what we had to do in order to win and our team took another step up in preparation. Bear downed on the film room, bear downed in practice."
Davis (Colorado Springs) spearheaded an offense that scored 21 points in the first quarter and in a total of eight plays. He had a 21-yard scramble to start things off, capped another fast 80-yard drive with a 14-yard run and then hit redshirt junior receiver Joe Stiffend (Plainfield, Ill.) from 64 yards out on a play where Stiffend was wide open on the right side of the field.
"Every good Central Missouri team can catch you with a blitz (score 21 points in a quarter). Our whole message this week was to avoid the blitz and also play really well on the offensive front to control their good defensive line," said Lynn.
For added measure, Davis tacked on a 68-yard scoring scamper early in the second to make it 28-3 and the route was on. His 191 yards pushes his career total to 3,061, allowing him to join backs Mike Miller ('02/4,818) and Rustin Dring ('11/3,789) as the Lopers with 3k rush yards. Davis is also close to 4k passing yards (3,847); he finished the day 4 of 10 for 134 yards, that one TD and an interception.
"It's pretty good to have this guy (TJ). Offensive coordinator Drew Thatcher made some good calls with our shots and he also had a good game plan to attack them with our play action game," said Lynn.
A young Mule offense had first half drives of 69, 57, 43, 79 and 39 yards but was stopped on fourth down three times. Those failed fourth downs came at the Loper 18, 32 and four with the defense limiting UCM to two field goals as well.
"We didn't give them the big play and made them grind when they got into the red zone," said Lynn. "Like last week (at Washburn), we're holding offenses to field goals."
UNK scored in the third quarter for the first time this fall when it went 82 yards in nine plays to start the second half. Super senior back Montrez Jackson (Trenton, Fla.) took a pitch from Davis on 4th & goal and waltzed into the left corner of the end zone. Super senior kicker Junior Gonzalez (Corning, Calif.) finished the scoring with a 38-yard field goal early in the fourth. Meanwhile, UCM's second half drives ended with three punts, a pick and a turnover on downs at mid field.
The Lopers out gained the Mules 540-395 despite running 27 fewer plays. Next, UNK was 3 for 4 on fourth down with UCM a combined 5 of 20 on third and fourth down. Finally, the Blue & Gold had eight tackles for loss, eight QB hurries and six pass breakups.
Both Jackson and redshirt sophomore back Damien Cearns (Denver) had at least 40 yards of rushing with six Lopers have a catch. That group included senior tight end Thomas Tews (Omaha Concordia) who caught a 40-yard pass from sophomore receiver AJ McPhee (Belle Grade, Fla.).
Defensively, Thedford super senior ILB Jacey Nutter had a game-best 14 tackles, position mate Jimmy Harrison (Hobbs, NM) had 1.5 TFL's and a PBU, All-American safety Darius Swanson (Aurora, Colo.) had another INT and two TFL's with Arizona junior safety Tre O'Guinn eight tackles (four solo).
For the Mules, Lincoln High grad Cedric Case finished 24 of 37 for 243 yards and one INT with Jackson (five recep., 47 yds.) and tight end Malik Clayborn (five recep., 41 yds.) his favorite targets. Case also ran eight times for 31 yards with back Jamarion Kolb netting 50 on nine totes. Finally, Ayeni Kingsley IV registered six tackles.
Longtime rival Fort Hays State (1-2) comes to town next Saturday at 7 p.m. The Tigers have night game Saturday vs. Missouri Southern.