Listen to Head Coach Josh Lynn Discuss The Season Opener here
Kearney, Neb. – The 113th football season in Nebraska-Kearney history kicks off Thursday night when the Lopers travel to Joplin, Mo., to face the Missouri Southern State Lions.
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Kick is set for 6 p.m. from Fred G. Hughes Stadium. Like last year the action can be heard live on The River (93.1 FM) with Jayson Jorgensen on the play-by-play and Larry Cotnoir providing color analysis. Next, the live video stream (for a price) is provided by TheMIAA Network with live stats also available.
This will be the 18th all-time meeting between the Lopers and Lions. UNK has won the last two meetings, 16-6 in 2017 and 45-0 last fall. That marked Kearney’s first-ever and only shutout of anMIAA opponent. UNK out gained MSSU 585-246 that evening, averaging 8.5 yards per carry and having five rushing scores.
Now ahead in the all-time series by a 10-7 margin, the Lopers haven’t picked up three straight wins over MSSU since the late 1980’s when the two were members of the CSIC.
While UNK and third-year head coach Josh Lynnhave the bulk of its roster and key performers back from squad that went 5-6 in 2018, the same isn’t true on the Green & Gold side of the field. First-year head coach Jeff Sims, previously at Garden City (Kan.) C.C., brought in recruiting class of 64 so the Lion roster is riddled with transfers, many from GCCC and Division I schools.
Sims guided the GCCC Broncobusters to the 2016 junior college national title and also helped Fort Scott (KS) C.C. reach the JUCO title game as well. The offensive (Marty Higgins) and defensive (Josh Hager) coordinators he hired have been at multiple Division II and Division III schools throughout their coaching careers.
Among the Lions expected to contribute Thursday night are quarterbacks Jacob Park (Iowa State & Georgia) and Dwayne Larson (Virginia Tech & GCCC), running backs Dalton James and Charles West (GCCC, BYU commit & Southern Miss) and receivers Brian Boyd (GCCC) and Ben Phillips (Tennessee-Martin & GCCC). Returning honorable mention All-MIAA pick Levi Marlay is back on defense with the newcomers including linebacker Keivonnis Davis (Florida & McNeese State, La.), corner David Rose (Purdue) and safety JaTrece Wright (Prairie View A&M & Monroe College). MSSU does return both its starting punter, 2018 All-MIAA pick Riley Hathorn, and place kicker, Paul Wolff.
The most veteran Loper team in the MIAA era (2012-present) enters Thursday night looks to build upon last year’s 5-6 mark. UNK won its season finale, 17-16, at Washburn thanks to a last minute field goal. However, close games weren’t kinds to the Lopers last fall as they dropped four games by a total of 21 points. That included a 29-26 double OT setback to now two-time league champions Fort Hays State.
Among the national leaders in rushing last season, UNK returns its top eight ball carries. The laundry list includes all-region selection Darrius Webb (998 yards & 10 TD’s), senior David Goodwin (7.5 yards per carry), grad student Luke Quinn (1,997 career all-purpose yards) and junior co-captain Dayton Sealey (6.7 ypg). For good measure All-American high jumper Montrez Jackson (Trenton, Fla.) amassed 908 all-purpose yards as a redshirt freshmen in doing a variety of things on the offense and special teams
Fifth-year senior Alex McGinnis will again lead the offense. In his first fall as the starting QB, the Crete native had six TD’s rushing and passing and a team-best 1,835 yards of total offense over 11 games. Blocking for McGinnis and the backs is a line featuring four fifth year seniors (Jacob Browne, Kolin Kenton, Jack McLeay and Josh Stoltenberg), right tackle and junior co-captainCorey Hoelck (Giltner) and junior newcomer Matt Krzysztalowicz (Burlington, Ontario, Canada).
Besides Jackson working out of the slot, UNK has fours seniors at receiver in former QB Cody Summers (Denver), Sedarius Young (Orlando, Fla.), Mitch Carlson (Central City) and Trey Richards (Hutchinson, Kan.) who played for Sims at GCCC in 2016.
UNK’s defense was among the best in the MIAA last fall, ranking in the top five in scoring (21.5), yards (328) and rushing TD’s (15) and passing TD’s (12) allowed. The majority of starters return including All-Region linebacker Sal Silvio (Kansas City), 2018 All-MIAA picks Hinwa Allieu(Gaithersburg, Md.), Jordan Ingraham (Miami) and Dallas Vaughn (St. Louis).
Silvio has managed 189 tackles over the last two years and is on pace to finish with the second most stops in school history. He’s part of a linebacker corps that features eight upperclassmen including senior co-captainRakid Hill (St. Louis).
Ingraham has started 22 games at nose guard while Allieu is a rare true fourth-year senior who has 120 tackles (11.0 sacks) to date. The line must replace 2018 All-MIAA pick Tye Spiesbut his younger brother, Tell, transferred in from South Dakota and has already made the two deep at one end spot.
Vaughn, a 2019 co-captain, and sophomore Blake Bubak (Columbus) combined for 94 tackles last year as the starting safeties. They lead a secondary that must replace starting corners Famous McKinnon and Malik Webb. Senior Malik Ransom (Tracy, Calif.) and junior newcomers David Tolentino Jr. (Sacramento, Calif.) and Terrell Williams (Miami) are the upperclassmen at this spot.
Finally the special teams returns starting long snapper Blaine Kennedy (Albion) and starting punter/kick off specialist Kendall Raschein (Red Bluff, Calif.). He earned 2018 All-MIAA honors and joins Bubak, Ingraham and McGinnis as UNK’s alternate captains.
UNK faces Central Oklahoma, who went 8-2 down the stretch last season, next Thursday night at Ron & Carol Cope Stadium at Foster Field. The Bronchos host Pittsburg State this week in a key MIAA game.