Courtesy of Nebraska-Kearney Athletics
KEARNEY, Neb. - The 23rd-ranked Nebraska-Kearney team tallied 21 first quarter points to roll past Mesa State, 31-9, Saturday afternoon at Ron & Carol Cope Stadium at Foster Field.
The RMAC opener for both teams, the Lopers (2-1) win an 11th straight league game, dating back to November 2008. UNK also improves to 16-3 all-time against the Mavericks (0-2), who drop to 1-9 in games played in Kearney.
The game was decided in the first 15 minutes as UNK tallied three touchdowns.
Mesa did march 43 yards on the game's opening drive, highlighted by a 20 yard run by punter Mike Brady on a fake punt. However, Loper senior DE Mason Brodine (Elm Creek) blocked a 35-yard field goal attempt from Caleb Pavy and UNK was off to the races.
Thirteen plays after Brodine's block, junior QB Jake Spitzlberger (Lakewood, Colo.) capped an 80-yard drive with a two yard scoring run on 3rd and goal. UNK's defense, which held Mesa to 180 yards on the day, then forced a three and out.
A 30-yard punt by Brady gave the Lopers the ball back at the Maverick 47-yard line. An 18-yard pass from Spitzlberger to junior WR Eli Hammond (Colo. Springs, Colo.) got the Lopers moving again and then, after three runs from junior RB Rustin Dring (Kearney), senior WR Kyle Kaiser (Broomfield, Colo.) caught a 15-yard scoring pass.
Another three and out by the Mesa offense brought Brady back on to the field. UNK, which had punts blocked in its first two games, turned the tables on the opposition as Hammond blocked Brady's boot and junior DE Cory Morten (Loomis) scooped up the ball and raced 24-yards for a 21-0 Loper lead.
In addition to this score, Morten also made two tackles on the kick cover team and registered one of UNK's two sacks.
Late in the first half, sophomore safety Sam Kuck (Central City) picked off Mesa QB Michael Mankoff and brought the ball back 33 yards to the 16-yard line. That setup UNK's final TD of the game, a 14-yard pass from Spitzlberger to junior TE Dane Rudeen (Overton) on a 3rd and 8.
Prior to this, Mesa turned a fumble on a Loper reverse into seven points. After pouncing on the loose ball at its own 47-yard line, the Mavericks marched down the field in seven plays, getting a 18-yard TD pass from Mankoff to Buddy Blevins.
The Lopers amassed 117 yards in its first two drives of the second half but only got a 29-yard field goal from freshman Michael Gruber (San Diego, Calif.) to show for it. Gruber saw a 31-yard attempt clang off the left upright prior to his made three pointer.
UNK finished the day with 376 total yards, including 204 on the ground. Before leaving the game due to injury, Dring carried the ball 12 times for 137 yards. He had a scamper of 75 yards in the second quarter to move the ball from UNK's own six-yard line to the Mesa 19-yard line.
Dring (MCL injury) will likely be out one or two games. Also, reserve safety Jake Richardson (# 28/San Bruno, Calif.) left the field via ambulance in the first half. He suffered a dislocated ankle and will miss the remainder of the season.
Next for the Lopers, Spitzlberger had 12 rushes for 55 yards and was 10 of 18 for 142 yards, two TD's and no INT's in the air. Kaiser led the Loper receivers with four catches for 64 yards.
Using three QB's and a host of ball carriers, Mesa reached its 180 yard total in 68 plays (2.6 avg.). Mankoff finished 10 of 22 for 95 yards, one TD and one INT with reserve RB James Hamm carrying the ball eight times for 28 yards.
Defensively, senior DL Josh Rohde (Eddyville) and sophomore ILB Justin Swedburg (Axtell) each made six tackles with Kuck and senior OLB Jay Kropp (Grand Island) having five stops a piece.
The Lopers head to Western State next Saturday.