Kearney, Neb. – Senior quarterback Zach Martin threw for 222 yards and one touchdown and the defense forced 10 punts to help No. 1 ranked Northwest Missouri State grind out a 13-0 win over Nebraska Kearney Saturday afternoon at Ron & Carol Cope Stadium at Foster Field.
Northwest (3-0) has now won 33 games in a row, the third longest streak in NCAA Division II history. This marks just the fifth game in the streak decided by 14 points or less.
A homecoming crowd of 6,210 watched UNK hang around all day thanks to a defensive effort that forced eight punts, register nine tackles for loss (three sacks), have four pass breakups and bring back an interception 54 yards. The Lopers also held Northwest Missouri to 5 of 19 (26%) effort on third down.
“Outstanding defensive effort. We have a good football team. I’m extremely proud of our kids and the effort they put forward today,” said UNK head coach Josh Lynn.
Northwest saw why UNK came in leading the MIAA in rush defense (54.0 yards per game) as they tallied just 68 yards on 33 carries (2.1 avg.). The three sacks of Martin, an Omaha North graduate, went for a loss of 16 yards.
“The defense was our rock today and they kept us in the game. We put them on several short fields and they answered the bell every time,” said Lynn.
Last year, NW allowed just 7.0 points and 232 yards per game. Losing its top six tacklers to graduation, the ‘Cats shut out current No. 14 Emporia State on opening night and surrendered 14 points last Thursday at Washburn. During its win streak, their scoring defense is now at 11.2 points per game.
Seeing several defensive linemen return from the disabled list, Northwest amassed eight TFL’s for 44 yards today to hold UNK to 58 yards in 53 plays. The Lopers, finishing 0 for 14 on third down, went 2 of 22 for 22 yards and one INT in the air; on the young season, NW is allowing the opposition to complete only 34% of its passes.
“We didn’t execute the interior run game like we needed to. That helps get everything else going for us,” said Lynn. “They are extremely physical on the perimeter. They get after it and, at the end of the day, they are a very good defense.”
In the defensive struggle, UNK’s average starting field position was its own 24-yard line while Northwest Missouri started at its own 44-yard line. The Lopers ended with nine three-and-outs while the ‘Cats had five such drives. Both offenses dropped several passes, something that would’ve brought these three-and-out numbers down.
Punters Matt Thorman (34.0 avg.) and Grant Buschkoetter (35.9 avg.) combined for 18 boots, six landing inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. Busckhoetter (Kearney Catholic) also saw one of his punts travel a season-long 68 yards.
Also in the kicking game, Northwest’s Brett Garner made field goals of 32 and 46 yards but also misfired on efforts from 20, 32 and 32 yards. All three misses came in the second half.
UNK had a golden chance to go into the locker room down 10-3 after junior corner Malik Webb (Roper, N.C.) picked off Martin, who was hit on the play by junior end Jacob Bartling (Elm Creek), at the Loper 22-yard line. Bobbing and weaving, Webb brought the ball all the way back into NW territory.
However, the first half clock was winding down and Webb fumbled the ball after being hit by a Bearcat. Sophomore linebacker Sal Silvio (Kansas City) recovered the loose ball to setup a last second 42-yard field goal try by senior Brendan Wentling (Grand Island). Unfortunately, the kick banged off the left upright, one of several kicks Wentling has seen end like that over the last two years.
UNK’s other opportunity to score came when they faced third and five from the NW 46-yard line with six minutes left in the first half. Redshirt freshman back Dayton Sealey (Hastings) was open for a first down, and likely more, but senior safety Edward Richey made a diving interception.
“Our vision is to win that game but I told our guys the Lopers are going in the right direction. I’m extremely proud of that defensive effort and there’s no reason for our guys to be hanging their heads,” said Lynn.”
Garner’s first three pointer came at the 10:30 mark of the first quarter with the game’s lone touchdown coming eight minutes later. Martin capped a six-play, 46-yard drive with a six-yard TD toss to senior receiver Shane Williams on second and goal.
Williams ended with 75 yards on seven catches with cohort Jordan Bishop having a team-high eight for 43 yards. Another receiver, junior Shawn Bane Jr., totaled 52 yards on seven grabs.
On the ground for the ‘Cats, senior back Jordan Grove had 15 carries for 49 yards. Defensively, sophomore backer Jake Brinkman had a team-best six stops with junior backer Nick Hess having two sacks and junior end Austin Eskew having four tackles and two QB hurries.
For the Lopers, Omaha sophomore back Thomas Russell rushed 15 times for 55 yards. His day including a season-best scamper of 20 yards. In the air, Kearney junior receiver Blake Holtmeier had a 23 yard reception.
The defensive effort was led by Silvio (12 tackles; 2.0 TFL’s), fellow inside backer Ty Botsford (eight tackles; 1.5 TFL’s), sophomore end Hinwa Allieu (six tackles; 1.5 TFL’s) and senior safety George Brown (five solo stops).
“That’s a pretty good offense so we need to build on this defensively. We got to get back to work on offense and establish a running game. We’ve got to do that to be successful in this league.” UNK heads to Washburn next Saturday afternoon. Click here to listen to the podcast.