Loper football competes in first spring game under Ryan Held
Video features interviews with Ryan Held, TJ Davis and Nolan Wetovick
KEARNEY, Neb. - The Nebraska-Kearney defense made a last-minute stop to get past the Loper offense, 33-30, Saturday afternoon at Ron & Carol Cope Stadium at Foster Field.
The annual "Spring Game" capped official workouts; NCAA teams are allotted 15 practices over a 30-day period. The offense, wearing Blue & Gold, tallied points via a touchdown (six), field goal (three) and PAT (one) with the defense, in Blue & White, getting on the scoreboard with a turnover (four), three-and-out (three), stop (two) or sack (one).
"We accomplished what we wanted to do today on both sides of the ball. We also got out of the game healthy which is the most important thing," said first-year head coach Ryan Held. "We still have a lot of work to do. Just need to tighten things up because this league is so good."
Quarterbacks weren't live and it was officials' discretion when they were touched or down by proximity. Additionally, there was a running clock in the second half with the offense getting one chance at the plus 20-yard line. They took that opportunity in the second half and scored, making it 27-10. The defense was up 20-13 at the break.
"We got most situations in that I would've liked. Football is such a game of situations," said Held. "Keep working on understanding time and situation … this is what we've got to get done on third down, what we have to do to be successful in the red zone."
UNK ran 111 plays and finished with 562 total yards (5.1 average). The now up-tempo Lopers ran 57 times for 161 yards and three touchdowns with four QB's combining to go 35 of 54 for 401 yards, one score and one interception. And there were only a handful of penalties called on the afternoon.
"This group just goes to work. That's fun … when we go out to practice, I don't feel like I have to get them fired up," said Held. "They understand the work ethic and the tempo of how we got to go."
The Lopers missed three field goals (20, 28 and 56 yards) and saw a PAT bang off the uprights. The 56-yard miss came with 32 seconds left and allowed the defense to move ahead 32-30. Auburn transfer and linebacker Joko Willis (LaGrange, Ga.) then recorded a sack on the next series to complete the score. UNK amassed 10 sacks on the day, for a loss of 65 yards, but many wouldn't have been stops had QB's been able to run. End Campbell Packebush (Littleton, Colo.) and linebacker turned end Delonte Dickey (Greenwood Village, Colo.) had two apiece.
"We need the extra points, we need the field goals. I had a few words with (the kickers) and you got to tighten things up. You've got to want the ball. This is the moment and the time to make it," said Held. "They responded better in the second half."
The offensive scores were a 32-yard scoring pass from QB TJ Davis (Colorado Springs) to receiver Zorian Stanton (Jacksonville), a 62-yard scoring run from back Jamaal Joseph (Miami) and one-yard runs from back Damien Cearns (Denver) and QB Sean Johnson Jr. (Orlando). Finally, junior kicker Kyle Failing () booted a 33-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
Joseph totaled a team-best 112 yards on 12 carries with Davis 14 of 23 for 204 yards. Next, "Fats" was 11 of 16 for 111 yards with QB Tyler Perry (Trenton, Fla.) 6 of 9 for 48 yards. Junior receiver JerQon Conners (St. Louis) had seven catches for 80 yards with junior receiver AJ McPhee (Belle Glade, Fla.) at four grabs for 58 yards. Finally, Cearns had four catches out of the backfield.
"We also get more trick plays installed. We ran one today but we'll have more in the fall," said Held. "We'll now step up our special teams in terms of scheme. We've done a lot of drills which is good but we need to get punt return going and make sure we tighten up things on kickoff."
Cozad redshirt freshman safety Nolan Wetovick had a team-best nine tackles (seven solo) including one TFL, a pass breakup and a pickoff at the goal line. That was a six-point play for the defense. Next, junior safety Tywan Muturi (Kansas City) had seven tackles, junior end Chris Valdez (Albuquerque) had six tackles (one sack) with Packebush amassing a team-best 3.0 TFL's
Finally, All-American Hunter Kraus (Taylor) had a 51-yard punt and redshirt freshman Spencer Hogeland (Kearney Catholic) made three PAT's.
"Overall, successful on both sides and now we get into phase three of the summer program," said Held. "These guys care about each other. There was some friendly banter, both sides of the ball. It's a good group and the culture is strong. There was a nice foundation and we've now made it ours."
UNK begins fall workouts in August with the 2023 opener set for Thursday, Aug. 31, at Central Oklahoma.