Kearney, Neb. – The Missouri Western State Griffons took advantage of four turnovers and rushed for 329 yards to beat Nebraska-Kearney, 44-21, Thursday night in St. Joseph, Mo. This was the season opener for both teams. MWSU has now beaten UNK eight straight times but still trails the all-time series, 16-11. Sophomore running back Josh Caldwell ran 23 times for 168 yards and one TD to lead a grinding Griffon ground attack. He tallied 153 yards in last year’s 34-17 win over the Lopers. Over the last three years against Kearney, Mo West has rushed for 933 yards and 13 TD’s. Five others had a double digit rushing total for the Griffons with junior QB Skyler Windmiller going 11 of 20 for 160 yards, two TD’s and no INT’s. His big toss was a 55-yard scoring strike to junior receiver Dijuan Ussery late in the first half that made the score 23-7. That drive began when junior safety Donte Watkins made a diving interception of a pass thrown by Loper redshirt freshman Steve Worthing (Elkhorn South H.S.). Mo West scored 21 points off of three INT’s and also recovered a fumble at its own four-yard line, stopping a potential Loper score. The game’s first points were tallied after a high snap on a UNK punt attempt. “Other than that play, I thought our special teams performed at a good level. We got a turnover on punt cover and the kick return team put us in some good position,” said UNK head coach Josh Lamberson.
The seventh true or redshirt freshman QB to start for UNK in the last 19 years, Worthing finished 18 of 33 for 220 yards, one TD and those three picks. Late in the game, fellow first year QB Justin Roberts (Arvada, Colo.) came in and was 5 of 9 for 56 yards and a score. The duo combined to complete passes to 10 different teammates, led by Texas senior receiver Preston Foley with six for 79 yards. “That’s what you point to in this game; those critical moments. Third and short for the offense in the red zone, third down for the defense. Those pivotal moments that can make or break a team and I think Missouri Western executed better than we did in those situations. That’s why they won” said Lamberson. After that early safety, Mo West had back-to-back drives end with missed field goals. A 43-yard toss from Worthing to Foley got the Lopers moving and they eventually had a 1st and 10 at the Griffon 14-yard line late in the first quarter. But, two plays later, a late fumble call gave the Griffons the ball back. Soon after, junior corner Brandin Dandridge picked off Worthing at the UNK 24-yard line and that led to a short Windmiller scoring pass.
It was UNK’s turn to take advantage of a miscue as Mo West muffed a punt a few minutes later. The Lopers took full advantage, moving 33 yards in six plays. Using the “Wild Loper’ formation, Omaha redshirt freshman back Thomas Russell scored from two yards out. However, the Griffs responded with an 11-play, 78-yard TD drive that was capped by an eight-yard scamper by reserve QB Corey Bertini. In the second half, Watkins brought back a pick 38 yards to setup a short TD drive and then the Griffs went 88 yards in 10 plays to make it 37-7. UNK showed some fight as Worthing threw completions for 57 and seven yards to sophomore WR Jack Lydiatt (Colo. Springs, Colo.) to make it 37-14. While MWSU responded with a 62-yard TD drive, Roberts then led UNK on a 14 play, 65-yard march. That drive ended with a fade to junior receiver Malcolm Moore (Excelsior Springs, Minn). “We knew we were going to make some mistakes tonight with such a young team. It’s now time to learn from them, build on the foundation that we’ve set and get better for week two,” said Lamberson. Missouri Western out gained the Lopers 498-296, and had an 11-minute advantage in time of possession.
Both teams were solid on third down (8 of 15 for MW; 7 of 17 for UNK) with the Griffs a perfect 5 of 5 in the red zone. Besides the picks, Watkins had a team-high 10 tackles (seven solo) with tackle Kyle Dumler having 1.5 TFL’s. UNK saw true freshman back Lorenz Allen (Manatee, Fla.) register 181 yards on seven kick returns. Next, senior Payton Fluckey (Springfield), had two of his punts land inside the 20-yard line. As usual, Sargent senior backer Tyke Kozeal was all over the place, registering 17 tackles (10 solo). He had a career-best 23 last fall vs. MWSU. Newcomers Garrett Poppen (Giltner), Sal Silvio (Kansas City) and Dallas Vaughn (St. Louis) each made seven tackles with junior safety George Brown (St. Louis) having six stops and a fumble recovery. UNK hosts No. 24 Emporia State next Thursday night. The Hornets lost to No. 1 NW Missouri State at home tonight, 41-7.