Courtesy of Nebraska-Kearney Athletics
- The 12th-ranked Nebraska-Kearney football team ran for 276 yards and scored two special teams touchdowns to fight off New Mexico Highlands, 38-13, Saturday afternoon at Ron & Carol Cope Stadium at Foster Field.
UNK (7-1, 6-0 RMAC) wins its seven straight game, its 16th straight RMAC contest and also beats the Cowboys (1-7, 1-5 RMAC) for an 11th straight year.
Things were tougher then expected as it was just a 21-13 Loper lead at the half and a 24-13 score to start the 4th quarter.
UNK, however, salted things away with two TD’s in a span of three minutes at the beginning of the fourth. First, sophomore ILB Ethan Kuhlmann (Athol, Kan.) picked off Jordan Mendoza at the Highlands 46 yard line and brought the ball back 45 yards.
That led to a one yard scoring run by senior Brendan Liess (McCook). The versatile Liess moved to running back late in the 2nd quarter when junior Rustin Dring (Kearney) left the game after getting hit in the back by a helmet.
Prior to leaving, Dring rushed for 82 yards on 11 carries. He now has 3,030 rushing yards, joining Mike Miller (4,818) as the only Lopers to rush for over 3,000 yards in a career.
Six plays later after Liess short score, sophomore safety Pete Kropp (Grand Island) blocked a Cowboys punt and the loose ball was returned 32 yards for a six points by junior receiver Eli Hammond (Colorado Springs, Colo.). This marks UNK’s third blocked punt for a score this year with Hammond having two of the touchdowns.
On the day, a ball control Highlands’ offense was on the field for 38 minutes to the Lopers 15. Thanks to a late push, UNK out gained the ‘Pokes, 356 to 330 yards, despite running 15 fewer plays.
To begin the scoring, McCook redshirt freshman Matt Berry returned a punt 68 yards for a touchdown. A receiver by position, Berry finished the game with 216 all-purpose yards (126 kick return and 90 punt return).
He wasn’t the only receiver to have a big all-around day as Highlands sophomore receiver Kevon Williams had 312 total yards (155 receiving, 128 kick return, 29 rushing). To reach that total, he had 13 catches, four kick returns and three rushes.
The Cowboys had two long 1st half drives, covering 56 and 75 yards, that resulted in field goals. A 71-yard pass to Williams highlighted the second drive but, on both occasions, the Loper defense stiffened and forced Ernesto Garcia to come in and kick two short field goals.
A 32-yard kick return from Berry, plus a five yard Highlands offsides penalty, helped the Lopers start its second scoring drive in Cowboys territory. On 3rd and goal, junior QB Jake Spitzlberger (Lakewood, Colo.) found his favorite target, senior Kyle Kaiser (Broomfield, Colo.), in the back of end zone for a touchdown and an eight point Loper lead.
About eight minutes later in the 2nd quarter, a 28 yard run by Spitzlberger put the ball at the Highlands 29-yard line. A 10-yard completion to Kaiser on 3rd and 4 kept the drive alive, which was capped by a Liess three-yard scoring run.
Highlands stayed in the game after forcing Spitzlberger to fumble right before half time. Mendoza (23 of 32 for 217 yards) then lofted a screen pass to running back Isaac Garcia (71 all-purpose yards), who rumbled 19 yards for a score.
In the 3rd quarter, a 44-yard catch by Kaiser (three catches for 64 yards) led to an 18-yard field goal from freshman Michael Gruber (San Diego, Calif.).
Highlands ran the ball 41 times in the game for only 113 yards (2.8 average). Four Lopers had at least 32 yards of rushing, including Spitzlberger (76) and sophomore running back Alex Hutchison (67).
Defensively, sophomore safety Sam Kuck had 10 tackles, senior end Mason Brodine (Elm Creek) and Kuhlmann each made nine with junior corner Arthur Hobbs (San Diego, Calif.) having seven solo stops.
UNK is at Western New Mexico Saturday.