UNK football rally falls, Lopers lose opener 24-21 at UCO
EDMOND, OK. - The Central Oklahoma Bronchos ran 29 more offensive plays, had a 54-yard pick six and used a last-minute roughing the punter penalty to hold off Nebraska-Kearney, 24-21, Thursday night in Edmond.
This was the season-opener for both squads with UCO stopping a two-game losing streak to UNK. They now lead the all-times series by a 7-5 margin.
"Obviously we're disappointed. There are three or four plays in the game – which is every game – that you look back at," said head coach Ryan Held in his UNK debut. "I think we'll be in a lot of these kind of games this year. And I've been through a lot of these games the last three, four years. Just got to find a way to get it done."
The Lopers were hoping to end the game the way they started. Thanks to a roughing the quarterback flag, UNK's opening drive stayed alive and TJ Davis (Colorado Springs) guided the offense on a 12-play, 75-yard march. A 29-yard pitch-and-catch to junior receiver Cole Brown (Dallas, Ga.) made it 7-0 halfway through the first quarter. ?
However, that was the Lopers last lead of the night as UCO played keep away, converting 8 of 20 third downs and 3 of 4 fourth downs to have a 17-minute time of possession advantage. Finishing with a 417-273 yard advantage, the 'Chos led 17-7 at the half and 24-14 halfway through the fourth.
"We knew that's exactly what they were going to do (run the ball). They would try and "ugly" the game and milk it. But, as crazy as it all was, we still had a chance to win in the end and that's all you can ask," said Held.
Midway through the fourth, the Loper defense stuffed UCO on 4th & 1 from the four-yard line. While the next offensive possession didn't yield points, an eight-yard sack from end Delonte Dickey (Greenwood Village, Colo.) kept hope alive. This time the offense responded as Davis hit junior receiver Zorian Stanton (Jacksonville) from 26 yards out to make it 24-21 with less than three minutes left. On the play, Standon busted several tackles to reach the end zone.
"We didn't get many possessions but once we got going, TJ was feeling comfortable in the offense. Some of those short yard plays (3rd & 1, 4th & 1) … we should've got those. We've got to get more possessions, we've got be more efficient on third down and we've got to run the ball better," said Held.
UNK stopped QB Stephon Brown on 3rd & 4 with less than three minutes left and it looked like Davis & Co. would get a shot to tie or win the game. However, the Blue & Gold was called for roughing punter David Vargas.
"I made the call to go for the punt block at the end. I have to own that … we almost blocked it the (punt) before. I felt like if we could just go after him, sometimes a punter can get lackadaisical," said Held. "I went after it and now I've got to kick myself in the shorts for that one because I took the ball out of the best player in the country hands and we didn't get a chance at the end."
The ball also didn't bounce the Lopers way when it was 24-14 late in the third. UCO rolled the dice and went for it on 4th & 1 from its own 31-yard line. Both teams were subbing players in and out quickly with a run into a pile not only going for no gain but also a fumble recovery by the Lopers. However, UNK was dinged for having 12 men on the field.
?To make it 24-14, sophomore defensive back JK Moore stepped in front of a ball thrown to the far sidelines and returned it 54-yards for a two-score lead and a momentum change. UNK started the second half strong on both sides of the ball, getting a nifty four-yard run from Davis to make it 17-14 five minutes into the third.
Brown, formerly of TCU, finished 13 of 24 for 170 yards and a score while rushing 13 times for 50 yards. Backs Trevon Woolfolk (12 carries, 101 yards, one TD) and Payton Scott (11 carries, 41 yards) powered the ground game with tight end Oscar Hammond at seven catches for 95 yards and a TD.
UNK saw Davis go 16 of 23 for 185 yards, those two TD's and one INT. He also rushed 11 times for a team-best 61 yards. The new look receiving corps was paced by Brown (three receptions, 84 yards), Maryland junior Reggie Anderson (four receptions, 36 yards) and Lincoln grad student Severyn Foster (three receptions, 19 yards).
The defense settled in and allowed no points after the break. All-MIAA safety Tre O'Guinn (Peoria, Ariz.) had a team-best 10 tackles (six solo), Mullen super senior Tell Spies was at nine stops (four solo) with junior newcomer and linebacker Joko Willis (LaGrange, Ga.) recording eight tackles (1.5 TFL's). Finally, All-American punter Hunter Kraus (Taylor) had a 43.8 average over four attempts with two boots of at least 50 yards.
"There's a lot of positives to look at in this game," said Held. "But at the end of the day we didn't get it done."
UNK hosts Northeastern State on Saturday, Sept. 9, at 7 p.m. at Ron & Carol Cope Stadium/Foster Field. NSU hosted Fort Hays State tonight and lost, 56-0.