Story and photo courtesy of Nebraska-Kearney Athletics
– On a snowy day in Western Colorado, the 8th-ranked Nebraska-Kearney football team was dominant in all phases to rout Fort Lewis, 54-7, Saturday afternoon at Dennison Field in Durango.
The Lopers (9-1, 7-1 RMAC) beat a young Skyhawks team (2-8, 1-7 RMAC) for a fifth straight year and their reward is another night in Durango.
Due to the wintry weather, which dropped around five inches during the game but likely much more in the Rockies, UNK will stay overnight and make the 700 mile journey home on Sunday. This is the Lopers last-ever road trip as an RMAC member.
Fort Lewis, coached by former UNK assistant Cesar Rivas-Sandoval, was dealt a big blow when junior QB Tim Jenkins couldn't play due to a concussion suffered late last week in a loss at Chadron State.
Jenkins is a two-time All-RMAC selection and one of the top passers in the league.
In his absence, true freshman Cougar Beaubien saw the first significant action of his collegiate career. Facing a Loper defense that is among the nation's best, Beaubien & Co. didn't fare well. Fort Lewis “racked up” a total of 48 yards – 38 rushing and 10 passing – in 49 offensive plays.
Beaubien went 8 of 24 with two INT's while being sacked one time. He was one of four ball carries that amassed 38 yards on 25 carries (1.5 avg). Of the Skyhawks 16 drives, 12 ended via a punt and 12 lasted only three plays. Finally, five drives produced negative yardage.
In Loper history, the 48 yards ranks as the fourth fewest with the passing yards tied for fifth fewest. Since UNK joined Division II in 1990, these totals are tied for first (10 yards/passing) and second (48/total offense).
On the other hand, UNK did whatever it wanted, finishing with 583 yards in 81 plays (7.2 avg). Seven Lopers combined to carry the ball 65 times for 324 yards and four scores with QB's Jake Spitzlberger (Lakewood, Colo.) and Kevin Romero (Hawthrone, Calif.) going 12 of 16 for 259 yards, three TD's and no INT's.
Sophomore receiver Matt Berry (McCook) was one of many offensive stars as, on the game's fifth play, he took a punt and went 79 yards to start the scoring. Last year, he brought back a punt 68 yards in a home win over New Mexico Highlands.
The next time UNK got the ball, it faced a 3rd and one from its own 27-yard line. Spitzlberger promptly hit Berry for a 73-yard TD and a 14-0 lead.
Berry wasn't done with the big play as a 30 yard catch jumped started the next UNK drive. Five plays after Berry's catch, sophomore back Stephan Rush (Merna) scored from three yards out and it was 21-7 eight minutes into the game.
Fort Lewis had its lone score in the first eight minutes as well. After a 29 yard kick return from Jonathan Price, running back Van Gramman raced 31 yards to the Loper 22-yard line. A pass interference moved the 'Hawks 11 yards closer and then Beaubien hit Doyle Bode for a touchdown.
UNK tacked on three more TD's in the second quarter and two more in the fourth. They included a 63-yard pass to Berry and a 67-yard run by sophomore back Shad Bride (St. John's, Ariz.).
Individually, Spitzlberger went 7 of 9 for 191 yards and three TD's with Berry catching five balls for 167 yards and those two scores. With his punt return, he finished with 246 all-purpose yards.
Next, Bride carried the ball 16 times for 120 yards with Spitzlberger having 15 totes for 74 yards. Finally on offense, Rush had 17 carries for 67 yards and two TD's.
Defensively, junior ILB Justin Swedburg (Axtell) had a team-high six tackles and fumble recovery with junior safety Sam Kuck (Central City) and redshirt freshman corner Louis Kaelin (Grand Island) each having interceptions. Kaelin also caused a fumble.
Also, Boys Town sophomore tackle Sandi Stanback had two tackles for a loss of 16 yards and a forced fumble
UNK closes out the regular season next Saturday at home against No. 23 Colorado School of Mines. The Orediggers edged Chadron State, 31-24, today in Golden.