Story and photo courtesy of Nebraska-Kearney Athletics
- The 5th-ranked Nebraska-Kearney football team ran for 319 yards and four scores, and limited 20th-ranked Colorado School of Mines to 254 yards, to beat the Orediggers, 45-21, Saturday afternoon at Ron & Carol Cope Stadium.
The season finale for both, UNK (10-1, 8-1 RMAC) reaches double digits in wins for only the second time in school history. Football has been played at UNK since 1905 with the 2009 squad setting the standard with 11 victories.
Kearney will now advance to the 24-team Division II playoffs for the fourth time since becoming a D2 member in 1990. The pairings will be announced Sunday at 4:00 p.m. Central at www.ncaasports.com.
A very banged up Loper team tallied 17 points in the first quarter, and added 14 more in the third, to slip past an Oredigger team (8-3, 6-3 RMAC) that had won five of the last seven meetings between the two.
Mines senior QB Clay Garcia, averaging nearly 290 yards a game, went 28 of 41 for 238 yards, two TD's and two INT's. Sacked three times for a loss of 22 yards, he couldn't take advantage of a beat up Loper secondary.
On the ground, the 'Diggers managed just 16 yards on 21 carries. Junior RB Dan Palmer (6-2, 235 lbs.) did finish with 34 yards and a score, putting his season total at an RMAC-best 1,016 yards.
All-American running back Rustin Dring (Kearney), who has missed five games this year due to injury, returned to the Loper lineup today but still wasn't at 100 percent. He managed a game-high 147 yards on 24 carries and ends his career with 593 rushing yards (148.3 avg.) against Mines.
Also on the ground, senior QB Jake Spitzlberger (Lakewood, Colo.) had a career-high 25 carries for 123 yards and two TD's (three and seven yards) with Merna sophomore Stephan Rush at 11 totes for 55 yards and a score. Mines came in giving up 116 rush yards per game, fifth best in the RMAC. This marks the fourth time UNK has rushed for at least 300 yards in a game this fall.
In the Loper passing game, Spitzlberger went 9 of 21 for 174 yards, two TD's and no INT's. His scoring tosses covered 10 and 45 yards and went to high school teammate Tommy Flanagan (Lakewood, Colo.).Flanagan, who has played spairingly the last month, finished with five catches for a game-high 102 yards. He also punted five times and had a 29 yard kick return.
Both TD tosses to Flanagan came at key times and on third down. With Mines down 17-14 and trying to run out the first clock, Palmer was popped by a herd of Lopers at the line of scrimmage and the loose ball was scooped up by sophomore corner Ryan Lendrum (Carlsbad, Calif.) with 40 ticks left in the second quarter.
Two plays later, Flanagan caught his first TD of the day.
Early in the second half, Diamond Gillis muffed a punt for the second time in the game and that put Mines at its own five yard line. UNK forced a three and out and sophomore Matt Berry (McCook) returned the ensuing punt 16 yards inside Mines territory.
Facing 3rd and seven, Spitzlberger found Flanagan in the middle of the field. He got a good block from a teammate and raced to the end zone for 31-14 Loper lead.
While Mines scored less than a minute later, thanks to a 33-yard kick return and a 29-yard reception by Palmer, UNK produced one of its longest drives of the year the next time it touched the ball. The 12 play, 68-yard march took 4:29 off the clock and featured nine runs, the last being a one yard scoring plunge by sophomore back Shad Bride (St. John's, Ariz.).
UNK's defense then stopped Mines twice on fourth down, the second resulting in a 40-yard INT return by Lendrum. The young corner, replacing an injured Kenny Hill (San Diego, Calif.), finished with seven stops, as did sophomore ILB Kellen Werner (Grand Island).
Also for the Lopers, junior safety Pete Kropp (Grand Island) had four solo tackles with sophomores Rashard King (Miami Beach, Fla.) and Jason Wilcox (Norfolk Catholic) registering sacks.
Besides Garcia and Palmer, Mines saw receiver Matt Brown catch seven balls for 52 yards and punter Taylor Accardi averaged 45.5 yards in seven attempts.