Courtesy of Nebraska-Kearney Athletics
KEARNEY, Neb. - Senior all-purpose player Brendan Liess ran for a career-high 98 yards and the 17th-ranked Nebraska-Kearney football team blocked another punt for a score to hold off Adams State, 27-17, Saturday afternoon at Ron & Carol Cope Stadium at Foster Field.
A Homecoming crowd of 4,010 watched the Lopers improve to 4-1 (3-0 RMAC) and beat the Grizzlies (1-4, 0-3 RMAC) for a sixth straight time. With UNK moving to the MIAA in two years, this was likely the last trip to Kearney for an Adams football team.
Liess hadn't played since hurting his right hamstring on a 29-yard TD run against Wayne State on August 28th. With three running backs out with injuries, Liess was asked to return to the back field today.
The former McCook Bison was moved to receiver prior to last season and hadn't started at running back since a September 2008 road game vs. Western State. Before today, his career high rushing total was 84 yards, set three years ago against Adams.
Still not at 100 percent, Liess got stronger as the game went on and reached his yardage total on 16 carries. He also caught two balls for 11 yards.
A defensive battle for the first three quarters, the two teams combined for 34 points and 319 yards in the final 15 minutes. UNK capped an 84-yard drive early in the quarter when junior QB Jake Spitzlberger (Lakewood, CO) scampered in from 17 yards out.
The Grizzlies offense would go three and out on the ensuing drive and then lined up to punt from its own 19-yard line. Reserve defensive end Cory Morten (Loomis) broke through, however, and blocked the punt. The ball ended up near the goal line where junior receiver Eli Hammond (Colorado Springs, Colo.) recovered it and rolled into the end zone for the touchdown.
Two weeks ago in a win over Mesa State, Hammond blocked a punt and Morten scooped up the loose ball and ran 24 yard for a TD.
Adams didn't go quietly as they blocked the following PAT and then marched 84 yard in five minutes to make a 10-point give. Running back Terjean Saffold was the star of the drive as he ripped off a 29-yard run on 3rd and 27 and then dashed 46 yards for the score.
The Grizzlies then recovered an on-side kick but the Loper defense stiffened as Morten sacked QB Trevor Eggleston (20 of 43 for 222 yards) on a 4th and 7 play from the UNK 45-yard line.
Offensive coordinator Russ Martin then went to his bag of tricks on the very next play as sophomore QB/WR Justin Drudik (Adams Central) took a pitch from Hammond and threw a 58-yard TD pass to senior Kyle Kaiser (Broomfield, Colo.).
The wild quarter wasn't done yet as Adams converted a 4th and 10 play from its own 45-yard line and then moved the ball down the field with another 12-yard pass. On 4th and 5 from the UNK-25 yard line, Saffold caught a screen pass from Eggleston and raced all the way to the end zone.
UNK finally secured the win when Kaiser recovered the ensuing on-side kick, which came with just over two minutes left.
Running 23 fewer plays then the Grizzlies, the Lopers were out gained by just 25 yards (400-375). Adams also racked up half that total (219) in the 4th quarter.
Spitzlberger finished 10 of 19 for 134 yards and one TD. That gives him exactly 5,000 passing yards for his career, helping him join Justin Coleman ('00) and Pat Korth ('03) as the only UNK signal callers to reach that mark.
He also carried the ball 16 times for 55 yards and that one TD run early in the fourth. Kaiser had 106 receiving yards on only three catches as, in addition to his scoring grab, he had a 49 yard reception in the second quarter.
Prior to the fourth, UNK's lone score came after Adams made a goal line stand late in the first half. While the Lopers failed to convert on 4th and one, the Grizzlies subsequent drive went nowhere and a short punt set up a 38-yard Kearney scoring drive.
The five play drive ended when Liess went down the left sidelines from 19 yards out.
Defensively, UNK recorded seven sacks of Eggleston with senior DL Josh Rohde (Eddyville) having 2.5 of those and Morten having two of his own. Sophomore ILB Ethan Kuhlmann (Athol, Kan.) and sophomore S Sam Kuck (Central City) paced the team with 10 tackles a piece.
UNK plays at RMAC title contenders Chadron State and CSU-Pueblo the next two weeks.