UNK football holds off Washburn

UNK will be delaying the start of their fall sports season.
UNK will be delaying the start of their fall sports season.(UNK)
Published: Sep. 17, 2022 at 11:15 PM CDT
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KEARNEY, Neb. (Press Release) - The No. 28/21 Nebraska Kearney football team scored 21 first half points, forced three late punts and had a game closing seven-minute drive to hold off No. 26/18 Washburn, 21-13, Saturday afternoon in Topeka, Kan.

The Lopers (2-1) beat the Ichabods (2-1) for a third time in the last four meetings and now lead the all-times series by a 17-13 margin.

UNK got touchdown passes of 27 and 18 yards from redshirt senior quarterback TJ Davis (Colorado Springs) in the first quarter and then saw Davis run from nine yards out on fourth down to take a 21-3 late in the first half. However, WU used scoring drives of 87 and 75 yards, encompassing the end of the half and the start of the third quarter, to get back into things. The Loper defense stiffened late, forcing three punts and watching the offense go on a 13-play, 59-yard drive to salt things away.

”I’m extremely happy. All week the emphasis (in practice) was getting things shut down and cleaning up the pass defense and I think we did that today,” said head coach Josh Lynn on the KRVN Radio post-game show. “Very happy with the defensive effort and one big thing was holding them to two field goals in the first half.

”The Lopers out gained the ‘Bods by a 407-247 margin despite running nine fewer plays. WU was 7 of 16 on third down but 1 of 3 on fourth down with UNK limiting QB Kellen Simoncic to a 16 of 37 (43%) effort. He apparently threw a 10-yard TD pass to All-American receiver James Letcher Jr. late in the second but offsetting penalties took the points off the board. WU did make the ensuing field goal to make it 21-6 at the half.  “It was a great team effort … the way we feed off each other. And I think we learned from last week (35-28 loss to Pittsburg State). There were times we could’ve folded our tent and gone home. But we didn’t and we limited them defensively and gave them no big plays,” said Lynn.

UNK ran just six offensive plays in the third quarter but a 34-yard pitch-and-catch from Davis to sophomore receiver AJ McPhee (Belle Grade, Fla.) got the Lopers moving early in the fourth. McPhee caught a 27-yarder to start the scoring and it appeared the Blue & Gold would go up 28-13 as Davis hit junior slot Bailey Torres (Cerritos, Calif.) for a 48-yard gain. However, WU defensive back Jordan Finnesy punched the ball out of Torres hands at the one-yard line, resulting in a touchback.

A seven-yard sack from inside backer Jimmy Harrison (Hobbs, NM) stopped the ‘Bods next drive with the defense forcing a three-and-out a few minutes later. The offense then churned out four first downs, converting two third downs and a fourth down to run the clock out.  “That’s what we do … play keep away. We also ran a lot of offensive linemen at them today and I think that helped give us the upper hand late in the game,” said Lynn.

Davis totaled 73 yards on 22 carries with redshirt freshman back Zane Schawang (Waverly) at 73 yards on just seven totes. He had a 53-yard scamper in the first half. Next, redshirt sophomore Damien Cearns (Denver) had 60 yards on 10 attempts with a long burst of 23 yards.

In the pass game, and facing some tough wind, Davis was 8 of 13 for 164 yards, those two scores and one interception. McPhee and Torres each caught two balls with sophomore receiver Zorian Stanton (St. Cloud, Fla.) having the 18-yard scoring grab in the second quarter.

”Play action worked great today. We’ve said it the past two weeks that when we get a chance to make a big play in the passing game, we need to do it. TJ did an outstanding job of getting the ball to where it needed to go today,” said Lynn.

Harrison continues his strong season, having a game-high 14 tackles (eight solo), with junior safety Tre O’Guinn (Peoria, Ariz.) at eight stops and senior OLB Atoa Fox (San Diego) and senior S Darius Swanson (Aurora, Colo.) at six tackles apiece. Finally, ends Baylor Hellmuth (Hershey) and Jayden Swink (Scottsdale, Ariz.) had TFL’s.

Washburn got 11 tackles from Gretna senior ILB Grant Brunter with All-MIAA linemen Landen Urban having two TFL’s and Finnesy at six tackles, that forced fumble and a PBU. UNK limited Letcher Jr. to 60 yards on six catches as well as 16 combined return yards. Finally, WU ran for 102 yards on 32 attempts with back Taylon Peters (70) leading the way.

UNK hosts Central Missouri (0-3) next Saturday at Cope Stadium. The Mules battled No. 2 Northwest Missouri today in Maryville but fell, 24-7.