KEARNEY – The Missouri Western State Griffons took advantage of three turnovers and outscored Nebraska-Kearney 19-0 in the second half to post a 25-17 win Saturday afternoon at Ron & Carol Cope Stadium at Foster Field.
The Griffons (6-4) avenge a 14-3 loss to the Lopers (4-6) last season and have now won nine of the last meetings between the two. Meanwhile, UNK has dropped four games this year by a combined 21 points with three of those coming at home and when leading at the half.
“Things did not go well for us in the second half and another critical thing was the first two turnovers. Those are big plays in that type of game. We had somethings going but didn’t finish either drive,” said Loper head coach Josh Lynn.
The tenor of the game changed early in the second half with the Lopers up 17-6. Kearney amassed 259 yards in the first half and its initial second half drive was going just as well. However, a five-play, 65-yard drive came to a screeching halt when UNK fumbled on an option play. Mo West recovered the loose ball at its own 22-yard line.
“Anytime you turn the ball over its discouraging. Gives Missouri Western credit … they capitalized off it and that probably was the turning point in momentum,” said Lynn.
A 10-play, 78-yard drive followed that featured a four-yard completion on third and four. Senior quarterback Dom Marino capped things with a 12-yard scoring pass to freshman tight end Cameron Gandy. On the play, UNK timed the snap count just right but Marino rolled to his right and found Gandy sandwiched between two Lopers.
Early in the first half, with UNK ahead 7-0, another potential scoring drive came to an end when junior linebacker Anthony Williams picked off junior QBAlex McGinnis (Crete) at the Griffon 24-yard line. That marked Mo West’s league-leading 12th interception of the fall. They turned that turnover into three points.
After the Griffs made it 17-12, Kearney had back-to-back three and outs. The Lopers finished the second half with 120 yards.
“Our defense was on the field way too long in the second half and that goes back to the offense having a couple of three and outs,” said Lynn. “We’ve got to stay steady and we didn’t do that today in the second half. It all goes back to the turnovers … we could’ve put points on the board and it would’ve been a whole different ball game.”
MWSU’s game-winning drive started at the end of the third quarter and lasted for 12 plays. On second and one from the UNK 25-yard line, Marino was flushed out of the pocket and threw one up for grabs into the end zone. Unfortunately, the Lopers recorded a pass breakup and not an interception.
“That’s an opportunity we should’ve capitalized on. We also had receivers drop some balls,” said Lynn.
Two plays later Marion hit senior receiver Keylan Mack for a 13-yard gain on fourth and six. Mack, from the slot, caused problems all day, finishing with 91 yards on seven receptions (13.0 avg.). Another Griff that had a big second half was redshirt freshman back James Bailey Jr. The Western Illinois transfer scored from seven yards out with 10:54 left to give his team the lead for good. Carrying defenders on his back on several runs, Bailey Jr. finished with 91 yards on 16 carries (5.7 avg.).
For the second time UNK stopped a two-point try to keep it a one-point game. However, a Loper drive ended on downs at the Griffon 49-yard line when McGinnis was stopped for a one-yard gain on fourth and two. That came with only seven minutes left.
“I thought we had to go for it there because of the way they were moving the ball,” said Lynn.
Mo West ran five minutes off the clock thanks to converting on second and 23 and fourth and one. Senior back Derek Gray Jr. scored from eight yards out with 1:47 left but that actually gave UNK a chance to force overtime.
The Lopers moved the ball out to its own 44-yard line but two incomplete passes, a rush for no gain and a false start setup fourth and 15. Junior safety Vayante Copeland picked off McGinnis at the Griffon 37-yard line to end things.
Mo West came on strong to out gain UNK 370-369. The Lopers had the ball about a minute more, 30:22-29:38, and finished 8 of 14 on the third down. Kearney was 7 for 9 on third down in the first half.
“It goes both ways … we’ve got to keep the chains moving. They did a good job of converting on third and fourth downs in the second half,” said Lynn.
Marino finished with 65 rushing yards on 10 totes while going 13 of 23 in the air for 172 yards, that one TD and no INT’s. He completed passes to seven teammates but Mack was the only one to have more than one.
For UNK, junior back Darrius Webb (Allentown, Pa.) spearheaded a rushing attack that churned out 276 yards (5.3 avg.). He had 21 carries for 115 yards and the game’s intimal score. Webb needs just 79 yards next week at Washburn to record the 15th 1,000-yard rushing season in school history.
Next, McGinnis had 86 yards and one TD on 19 carries with backup Cody Summers (Denver, Colo.) seeing some action and totaling 31 yards on eight attempts. In the air McGinnis was 8 of 16 for 93 yards, two INT’s and was sacked once. His favorite target was Florida junior back David Goodwin (two recep., 23 yds.).
Defensively junior ILB Sal Silvio (Kansas City) had a team-high 12 tackles to push his season total to 101. This is the 10th 100-tackle season by a Loper since 1990. Silvio’s day included 2.0 TFL’s and a QB hurry. Finally, seniors Cliffond Taylor (Miami) and Tashan Finley (Indianapolis) both had five stops with fellow senior Tye Spies (Mullen) having three including a TFL.
A tough Mo West defense was led by senior LB James Huskey (11 tackles, one TFL) and senior safety Jabbar Miles (10 tackles, one PBU).
“Our players are awesome. We want to win so badly and we’ve got to find a way to do that,” said Lynn.
UNK heads to Washburn next Saturday. The Ichabods (5-5) upset nationally-ranked Pittsburg State, 40-23, today on the road.
MWSU (6-4) 0 6 6 13 – 25
UNK (4-6) 6 11 0 0 – 17