UNK Football: Lopers Go to the Air to Upset #23/24 Pitt State 28-17
Kearney, Neb. – Quarterback TJ Davis threw three touchdown passes and ran for another and the Nebraska-Kearney defense pitched a shut out in the second half as the Lopers downed No. 23/24 Pittsburg State, 28-17, Saturday night in Kansas.
The Lopers (2-0), who are riding a five-game winning streak dating back to 2019, will likely enter the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Division II Top 25 poll next week. UNK was 31st this past week; the program hasn't been ranked since the 2011 playoff season (11-2).
"Defensively, the turnovers (three) were big. We knew going in our secondary had to play well. We got beat with a flea flicker (in the first half) but our corners, without a starter, played extremely well," UNK head coach Josh Lynn said on the The River 93.1 FM radio postgame show. "(Corner) Gabriel Amegatcher had a great performance tonight, (outside linebacker) Atoa Fox had a great performance tonight. It was a good team effort but the defense really stepped up."
To win in "The Jungle" for a second straight season, the offense went to the air as Davis (Colorado Springs) tossed scoring passes of 15, 30 and 44 yards. He finished 11 of 17 for 198 yards and completed passes to seven different teammates. Davis secured the win with a three-yard scoring run on third down with three minutes left.
The defense, under first-year coordinator Levi Gallas, had three second half interceptions, forced a punt and held on fourth down after the break. Overall, Pitt finished 7 of 15 on third down and tallied just 182 yards over the final two quarters.
Down 17-7 at the half, UNK took the second half kickoff and marched 67 yards in nine plays. A roughing the passer call on 3rd and 20 kept the drive alive with Davis calling his own number and running for eight yards on 3rd and 5 soon after. Two plays later he tossed a 30-yard TD strike to Columbus junior receiver Michael Koch (Columbus).
"They came out in a different (defensive) scheme and it was a good scheme. Give those guys credit. It just took us a little bit offensively to figure it out," Lynn said. "We made some adjustments and we knew we had to throw the ball a little bit."
McCook redshirt sophomore ILB Zach Schlager picked off a tipped ball on the next Gorilla drive but UNK couldn't take advantage of the turnover. After a 48-yard drive stalled at the end of the third quarter, the Lopers took the lead for good after Amegatcher (Romeoville, Ill.) picked off Pitt QB Mak Sexton at the Loper five-yard line early in the fourth. A seven-play, 95-yard drive featured completions of 17 and 22 yards, respectively, with Florida redshirt senior back Montrez Jackson breaking wide open for a 44-yard score at the 10:56 mark.
"We've never been known as a passing team but our line and receivers did a good job in the second half," Lynn said. "Overall a great team win. It's huge but it doesn't get any easier."
The Gorillas drove into UNK territory on its next drive but the defense held on 4th and 2 as a Sketon pass fell incomplete. An eight-play, 57-yard drive followed and featured a 16-yard completion and a 26-yard run by Davis. His run around the right side on third down sealed the win with Thedford senior ILB Jacey Nutter intercepting a tipped ball near the Loper goal line at the 1:43 mark.
With a veteran Pitt defense primed to stop the Lopers ground game, Kearney finished with 199 yards. Davis (105) had his ninth Century game with Hastings graduate back Dayton Sealey at 55 yards on nine attempts. Next, Missouri redshirt freshman slot receiver JerQon Conners had three grabs for 55 yards and two rushes for nine yards with Albion redshirt junior receiver Cody Nelson tallying 31 yards and his first collegiate score.
Schlager (12) and Nutter (nine) combined for 21 tackles with Colorado redshirt junior safety Darius Swanson at eight stops and position mate Blake Bubak (Columbus) at seven. Finally, Fox (San Diego) and junior ILB Jimmy Harrison (Hobbs, N.M.) combined for 13 tackles.
For Pitt, Sexton finished 18 of 37 for 246 yards with Iowa State transfer Jalen Martin (six recep., 112 yds., one TD) his favorite target. The ground game was led by freshman Caleb Lewis (16 carries for 60 yards) with junior ILB P.J. Sarwinski recording a team-best nine tackles (seven solo).
UNK hosts Washburn (2-0) next Saturday at Cope Stadium. The Ichabods have beaten Lincoln and Central Missouri to date.