By: Brett Howery
Missouri Western fumbled away the opening kickoff, and from this point on, the Griffons stumbled on their senior night and fell to the streaky Lopers 49-21.
Nebraska-Kearney averages 336.7 yards on the ground per game. Last Saturday, the Lopers ran for 528 yards on 71 carries. While Missouri Western’s offense was limited to 300 yards, rushing for 99 and passing for 201.
Head coach Matt Williamson was not happy with the team at all after the loss.
“We didn’t play well on any facet of the game,” Williamson said. “We knew coming in that they would run — we just thought we could win the edge.”
UNK found out early that it was playing more physical than Missouri Western, running almost identical plays for the entire first quarter with the Griffons not being able to answer anything.
After the fumbled kickoff, the Lopers were able to score quickly on an eight-yard run by Luke Qunn. The extra point was blocked, though, and freshman Trey Vaval would return to the field with a vengeance. On the next kickoff, he took the ball and he ran it 85 yards for a touchdown.
What happened next would be a staple of what UNK would do the rest of the game. The Lopers ran the ball for 10 plays, 83 yards and took off five minutes and 48 seconds off the clock and scoring. And with their successful two-point conversion, it was 14-7, UNK.
The Griffons were forced to punt later on in the second quarter, and on the Lopers first play with the ball, Darrius Webb ran it 59 yards for a touchdown. 21-7, UNK. The scoring wasn’t done in the second quarter though, as Shamar Griffith took a pitch and ran 41 yards to the house for a score, making it 21-14, UNK.
After stifling the Loper offense, the Griffons thought they’d be able to get their defense off the field with a four-and-out. Their defense did get off the field, but it was after giving up a 53-yard passing touchdown, one of only six passing attempts the entire game by the Lopers.
Defensive back junior Devan Burrell dove to try and break up the pass but was just short on the play.
“I remember being off-balance,” Burrell said. “Gotta locate the receiver before I locate the ball. Get my hands on the receiver so I can keep my balance and get up to the ball.”
For the record, the extra point for that touchdown was also blocked, the Griffons sixth blocked extra point on the year. The score was now 27-14, UNK.
The teams went to the locker room with different talking points to their teams. The Griffons were trying to find away to attack the Lopers option attack, while the Lopers were trying to think of a way to keep the Griffons, a historically good second half team, down for the count.
Coming out of the locker room, you wouldn’t have known that. The first drive for the Lopers was a 13 play, 73-yard touchdown drive that ate up 6:10 off the clock and ended with a nine-yard TJ Davis rushing touchdown. One successful two-point conversion later, and it was 35-14.
Senior offensive lineman Shawn Rouse was not thinking of excuses when looking back on this game.
“We got out physicaled at the line,” Rouse said. “All I was trying to do was make my blocks, and they beat us a couple times.”
Missouri Western wasn’t ready to quit though, and this is something we’ve seen from this team time and time again this year. A two-minute drive covering 73 yards on six plays capped off with a touchdown from Wyatt Steigerwald to Kyle Berry made the score 35-21.
That would be the last we saw of the Griffons’ offense.
Later in the game, Steigerwald was hit and fall on his shoulder, taking him out of the game, giving freshman Anthony Vespo some playing time, but the game was all but over. The Lopers left Spratt Stadium spoiling the Griffons Senior day, 49-21.
This rivalry between the Lopers and the Griffons has been interesting in recent years. Both Williamson and Josh Lynn — UNK head coach — were hired in 2017. The Griffons were on an eight-game winning streak over UNK at the time dating all the way back to 1996, and since these coaches have clashed, out of those three times, UNK is now leading 2-1.
Next Saturday the Griffons look to spoil a senior day of their own facing Lincoln. The Griffons come into this game with a 7-3 record and fighting for a bowl bid, while the Blue Tigers are currently 1-9 and trying to salvage a dud of a season.