Kearney, Neb. – The Nebraska-Kearney football team heads to Maryville this Saturday for a “Homecoming” tilt against the 13th-ranked Northwest Missouri State Bearcats. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m.; check the Loper schedule page for media links. UNK (4-2) is in a three-way tie for third in the MIAA standings along with Fort Hays State and Missouri Western State. The Bearcats (5-1) are tied with No. 18 Pittsburg State for first but Northwest rolled last Saturday at Pitt, 31-7. That victory pushes the ‘Cats record to 116-15 (88.9 pct.) over the last decade. Almost as impressive is the fact the always stingy Northwest defense hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown the past 19 games (627 carries). Not surprisingly, the unit ranks second in Division II in scoring defense (10.2 ppg). Last year at Ron & Carol Cope Stadium the ‘Cats posted a 13-0 victory over the Lopers. Holding UNK to 58 yards (38 rushing and 20 passing), Northwest scored 10 points in the first quarter to grab an 11-3 all-time series lead. The Lopers last win over the ‘Cats came in the 1990 season finale, 45-42. That was Kearney’s first season as a NCAA Division II member.
The Loper run game hopes to have better success this time around against Northwest. UNK currently leads the MIAA in rushing yards per game (304), rushing touchdowns (20) and rushing attempts (329/55 per game). Nationally, the Blue & Gold rank fourth in rushing and are third in TD’s. Individually, juniors David Goodwin (Lauderhill, Fla.) and Darrius Webb (Allentown, Pa.) and sophomore Dayton Sealey (Hastings) all average over seven yards per carry. Webb leads the MIAA in both rushing yards per game (96.7) and rushing scores (nine) with Crete junior quarterback Alex McGinnis among the rushing attempt (87) leaders. 32609They’ll square off against a Northwest defense has allowed only 11 red zone trips to date. The ‘Cats allow the opposition to convert just 26% of the time on third down and have racked up 55 TFL’s (17 sacks).
A deep and balanced crew finds seven players between 21-40 tackles led by senior safety Jake Richards (40) and sophomore tackle Sam Roberts (4.5 sacks). Offensively, Northwest is led by Elkhorn South graduate Braden Wright. The redshirt freshman verbally committed to UNK when Josh Lamberson was head coach but switched to Northwest after Lamberson left for Abilene Christian in December 2016. Over his first six collegiate games Wright is completing 57% of his passes, thrown 12 TD’s to just two INT’s and the ‘Cats second leading rusher (305 yards and six TD’s). His weapons include senior receiver/kick returner Shawn Bane Jr. (three-time All-MIAA) and backs Josh Caldwell and Isaiah Strayhorn (7.0 ypc). Caldwell previously played at Missouri Western State where he earned All-American honors. In last year’s game UNK limited Northwest to 290 yards. That included 68 on the ground as the ‘Cats averaged 2.1 yards over 33 carries. Bane Jr. did have seven catches for 52 yards; he had 127 and two scores in a 2016 win over UNK.
The Loper defense currently ranks 21st nationally in scoring (16.3), 31st in passing (174.0 ypg) and 37th in rushing (120.2 ypg). They are 167 football playing schools in D2. Junior inside linebacker Sal Silvio (Kansas City) has a team-best 54 tackles, putting his career total at 180. That ranks 27th on UNK’s all-time list; note tackles became a stat beginning in 1990. Safety Dallas Vaughn (147) and corner Famous McKinnon (135) will soon join Silvio as Lopers with 150 career stops. Forty-three players have reached that milestone since 1990 with just 17 managing to get to 200. Vaughn is third in tackles to date (30) with McKinnon (seven) and fellow corner Malik Webb (eight) combining for 15 pass breakups. That puts both among the MIAA leaders in pass defended. UNK returns home next Saturday to face the rival Fort Hays State Tigers. It’ll be the 64th all-time meeting between the two with kickoff slated for 11 a.m.