Kearney, Neb. – The Nebraska Kearney football team used a stellar defensive effort and grind-it-out offense to upset Missouri Western State, 14-3, Thursday night at Ron & Carol Cope Stadium at Foster Field. This was the season opener for both teams and the debuts of head coaches Josh Lynn (UNK) and Matt Williamson (MWSU). A crowd of 6,514 watched Kearney end a 21-game losing streak in August and September, dating back to September 2011, as the defense registered 7.0 tackles for loss (4.0 sacks), four pass break ups, three quarterback hurries and 39-interception return for a 7-0 lead. “It’s good to get off on the right foot,” said Lynn. “You can’t argue with what our defense did tonight.
Every time they went on the field, they answered the ball. They were the rock for us.” MWSU had won eight in row over UNK, dating back to 1988, and had averaged 311 rushing yards in the last three wins. Tonight, defensive coordinator Scott Lewis saw his group limit the Griffons to 209 total yards with Luke Theis having to punt nine times. This team effort helped the Lopers move to 1-0 for the first time in six years. Also, the three points is the fewest by a Loper opponent in eight years and the fewest in the MIAA era (2012-present). “It wasn’t the scheme. It was the kids; it always is,” said UNK defensive coordinator Scott Lewis. “Our objective coming in was top stop number 20 (Josh Caldwell). He’s a heckuva of a running back, one of the best. I thought we did a good job on him and that got them into a lot of third and longs.” Offensively, the Lopers held the ball for 34 minutes thanks to an option-game that produced 120 yards on 40 carries. Many of those totes went up the gut to sophomore back Thomas Russell (24 carries for 72 yards). “When you start the year, you just need that little spark to get you some confidence. That pick six was something that got our entire team going,” said Lynn.
“After we came in from pregame, our seniors like Sam Stoltenberg were up preaching and everyone was listening. Right then and there I knew we had a chance.” In the air, sophomore quarterback Steve Worthing (Elkhorn South) was 13 of 23 for 150 yards and one TD. He also rushed 10 times for 39 yards and had UNK’s long run (18 yards) of the night. Newcomer Malik Webb (Roper, N.C.) started the scoring when he picked off fifth-year Skyler Windmiller and raced untouched 39 yards for a score with 2:35 left in the first quarter. The veteran QB left late in the game due to injury and finished 14 of 33 for 131 yards. He was sacked three times and hurried on several other attempts. “We just sat in zone and let our DL’s go to work. And credit to the DB’s; they kept everything in front,” said Lewis. “Overall, it was group effort. It wasn’t the scheme; it was the kids executing the scheme.” Mo West went three-and-out seven times and that often gave the Lopers great field position. Late in the first quarter, UNK took over at its own 41-yard line and Worthing hooked up with junior receiver Count-Marquis Pippins II (Richmond, Calif.) for a 34-yard gain.
After converting a third and six, Worthing found junior receiver Blake Holtmeier (Kearney Catholic) from two yards out and a 14-0 lead. The Griffons seemingly were set to go into the locker room down 14-0 but a UNK penalty resulted in an untimed down from midfield. Windmiller got outside the pocket and junior receiver Elijah Cunningham almost caught a tipped ball in the end zone. This marked Kearney’s first halftime shut out since a 27-0 lead at Northeastern State in October 2014. Early in the third, MWSU finally got some momentum going when Jonathon Owens returned a punt 38 yards to the Loper 38-yard line. The Griffons handed the ball to Josh Caldwell (15 carries for 47 yards), a 2016 All-American, in seven of the next 10 plays. UNK held, however, and forced Papillion native Tyler Basch to boot a 20-yard field goal. The Lopers responded with its longest drive of the night, a 12-play, 52-yards march that took 6:47 off the clock and pushed the game into fourth. While the drive ended with a missed field goal, Mo West’s next three drives were all three and outs. “Our defensive effort allowed our offense to be on their side of the field,” said Lynn. “We got really conservative in the third and fourth quarter. But that goes with a team win. Your defense is playing well and we’re just trying to get time off the clock. Sometimes you have to flatten the football.” The Griffons did make things a bit interesting when backup QB Corey Bertini rallied his team from a 3rd and 19 situation. After two completions kept the chains moving, Bertini had the Griffons set up at the Loper 13-yard line with 57 seconds left. Ends Hinwa Allieu (Gaithersburg, Md.) and Tye Spies (Mullen) hurried Bertini on 2nd 3 and then Spies was in on his third sack of the night, a two-yard loss that forced the Griffs to call back-to-back timeouts. Finally, a 4th and 5 pass fell incomplete. “Our biggest advantage tonight was our senior leadership. Guys like George Brown and Stoltenberg. The guys that have played under three head coaches,” said Lynn. “They want to be successful and it really showed tonight.” Worthing completed passes to eight teammates with five having two apiece. That included newcomers Darrien Daniels (St. Louis), Marvin Marshall (Orlando) and Sedarius Young (Orlando). The spirited defense effort saw 11 players have between three and six tackles. Spies and sophomore inside backer Sal Silvio (Kansas City) both had six tackles, four of the solo variety, with Spies’ 2.5 sacks going for a loss of 15 yards.
Next, Allieu had a nine-yard sack and two QB hurries, Webb managed three tackles (two solo) and senior corner Justin James (Charlotte) had three tackles (1.0 TFL). He also held MWSU receiver Dijuan Ussery to three catches and 18 yards. Finally for the Lopers, redshirt freshman punter Grant Buschkoetter (Kearney Catholic) saw five of his eight boots land inside the MWSU 20-yard line. Kearney is at No. 4 Emporia State next Thursday night. The Hornets lost at two-time defending national champion NW Missouri State tonight, 34-0. Click here to listen to the podcast of the game.