Kearney, Neb. – The Emporia State Hornets ran 100 offensive plays and forced four turnovers in a 34-7 win over Nebraska-Kearney Thursday night at Ron & Carol Cope Stadium at Foster Field.
The Hornets are now 1-1 and improve to 12-4 since the start of last season. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Braxton Marstall, making his fifth career start, directed an E-State offense that finished with 488 yards and had the ball for 37:51. He was 24 of 42 for 272 yards, two TD’s and one INT while rushing 10 times for a team-high 67 yards.
Marstall and backup Jaylen Lowe combined to throw completions to eight different teammates, led by senior receiver Marshall Foote (eight for 89 yards).
UNK’s offense had three drives of at least 46 yards in the second half and finished with 251 total yards. They were hampered by a 2 of 14 effort on third down and those four turnovers (two interceptions and two fumbles) that led to 14 Emporia points.
One fumble also came at the Hornet one-yard line as junior corner Marcus Houghton forced a fumble and returned the ball all the way to midfield. That stopped UNK’s best drive of the night, a seven-play, 85-yard march that came midway through the third quarter.
The Loper defense rose to the occasion several times, including on ESU’s first drive. The Hornets went 77 yards in 13 plays but had to settle for a 21-yard Austin Morton field goal. Head coach Josh Lamberson feels the Loper defense actually had a pretty good game.
Omaha native Eddie Vinson, a defensive linemen, picked of Steve Worthing (Elkhorn South H.S.) on an attempted screen pass on the next play from scrimmage. UNK again forced another field goal attempt and this time Morton was wide left from 39 yards out.
Emporia had another chance to score soon after but sophomore linebacker Garrett Poppen (Giltner) stuffed running back Landon Nault on 4th and 1 from the Loper 12-yard line.
While the Hornets had TD drives of 48 and 82 yards in the second quarter, the UNK defense rose up once more as they stopped Marstall on a QB sneak on the final play of the first half from the Loper one-yard line. Marstall has scampered 33 yards on 2nd and 18 and was tackled by junior safety George Brown (University City, Mo.) with two tenths of a second left.
Emporia started the second half with a 26-yard field goal from Morton and then, after that fumble return by Houghton, went ahead 27-0 on a one-yard plunge by back Denzel Strong.
Poppen helped stopped another Hornet drive when he picked off a tipped pass at the Loper two-yard line late in the third quarter. Early in the fourth, UNK went 46 yards in six plays to get on the board. Worthing hooked up with senior “T” Julian Navarrette (Queen Creek, Ariz.) from eight yards out.
Worthing finished 13 of 29 for 167 yards, one TD and two INT’s. Redshirt freshman QB Justin Roberts (Arvada, Colo.) played several series and competed 2 of 8 passes for 27 yards. Eleven Lopers caught a pass, including three for 64 yards by true freshman receiver Kentrez Bell (Kansas City, Mo.).
As usual, Sargent linebacker Tyke Kozeal was all over the place, finishing with a game-high 16 tackles. Poppen tallied seven, including 1.5 for lost yardage, with Mullen sophomore end Tye Spies one of four Lopers to have five tackles. His total included 1.5 TFL’s.
UNK is at defending national champion NW Missouri State next weekend. The Bearcats are riding a 17-game winning streak.