KEARNEY, Neb. Nebraska Kearney had three first half fourth down stops, six sacks including a scoop-and score and recovered two on-side kicks to hold off Washburn, 27-21, Saturday afternoon at Ron & Carol Cope Stadium at Foster Field.

The Lopers (2-3, 2-3) beat the Ichabods (1-4, 0-4) for the fourth time in the last five meetings. Those wins came by a total of 19 points with UNK now having an 18-13 all-time series lead.

"When you're trying to find your way in this league there's no easy path. It's never going to be easy for victories," said UNK head coach Ryan Held. "Our guys just keep fighting and we could've easily faltered there at the end."

Washburn's first three drives amassed 147 yards but each one ended inside the Loper 47-yard line as the defense bowed up on fourth down three straight times. The turnover on downs came on 4th & 6, 4th & 2 and 4th & 1. Junior linebacker Joko Willis (LaGrange, Ga.) had a sack on the second stop.   ?

"Our defense played light out for much of the game. They were able to get us a touchdown and a big interception," said Held. "We got another blocked kick that set us up for another touchdown. So, it was full-team victory."

Three penalties were then the story of the game with the first coming after Kearney grad transfer Gabe Heins booted a short field goal at the start of the second quarter. However, WU was called for delay of game (mimicking the snap count) and that gave UNK a first down. Quarterback TJ Davis (Colorado Springs) promptly ran for a five-yard score on the next play and the game's first points.

A blocked punt by junior safety Nathan Pesek (Millard West) at the start of the second half set up the next score. Senior tackle Tell Spies (Mullen) had just recorded his second sack of the game with Pesek & Co. recording their fourth block of the fall (two PAT's and two punts) on the next play. Junior linebacker Travis Hall Jr. (San Diego, Calif.) recovered the loose ball at the WU 10-yard line with back and grad transfer DeMareus Hosey (Justin, Texas) sprinting for a TD right away.

"We feel like we have good depth in this program. We can play a lot of guys and you need everybody," said Held. "We do a lot of drill work on blocked kicks in practice and that was a point of emphasis this week. (Coach) Jake Mandelko has done a nice job as our special teams coordinator and he finds opportunities. And, our guys play really hard on special teams."

However, backup and true freshman lefty QB Sam Van Dyne led his team on a 12-play, 75-yard march to make it a one score game. The 'Bods converted 4th & 7 and then Van Dyne hit tight end Connor Searcy for a nine-yard score.

After getting a three-and-out, Van Dyne hit receiver Triston Johnson for a 78-yard TD and an apparent 13-12 lead. However, WU freshman start receiver D.J. Bell was called for an illegal block on safety CJ Kuehl (Indianola, Ia.) as Johnson was running down the sidelines. That brought the ball back to the WU 37-yard line. Disaster struck on the next two plays as a high snap resulted in a 28-yard loss with senior corner Armani Webster (Chicago) then picking off Van Dyne at the 'Bods 42-yard line.

While WU would pick off Davis at their own six-yard line a few plays later, the Loper D got a three-and-out. That led to an easy 42-yard pitch-and-catch from Davis to grad transfer receiver Severyn Foster (Lincoln SE). Willis then recorded his second sack of the game on 3rd & 9 as Van Dyne chased down a low snap. Willis hit the lefty, picked up the loose ball with his left hand, spun around and raced down the sidelines for a 27-7 lead.

?"Coach (Tim) Schaffner does a great job, and our guys are really buying in what they are teaching," said Held. "Offensively, once again, we didn't have as many plays as we would've liked."

UNK seemingly had the game in hand after another fourth down stop with just over five minutes remaining. However, a targeting call gave WU life and a first down at the Loper 22-yard line. Van Dyne hit receiver Maury Sullivan for a 15-yard score on 3rd & 14 six plays later.

While receiver Cole Brown (Dallas, Ga.) recovered the ensuing on-side kick, the Lopers failed on 4th & 1 from the 'Bods 25-yard line with just over a minute left. Three plays later, Van Dyke hit Bell from 54-yards out as he made a one-handed grab for the six points. Brown once again recovered the onside kick but made it a bit interesting as he bobbled the ball initially and then was met by a host of 'Bods.

Washburn finished with a 421-261 yard advantage as they ran 32 more plays than the Lopers. Van Dyne finished 30 of 45 for 378 yards and three scores with Johnson (five recep., 108 yards) and back Taylon Peters (five recep., 30 yards) his favorite targets. Peters got hot late to the tune of 51 yards on 14 carries. Next, punter Jake Zeller got off an 81-yard boot in the first half as a hot line drive rolled about 30 yards with linebacker Mason Capper at four tackles and a forced fumble.

For UNK, Davis was 10 of 16 for 127 yards, one TD and one pick while rushing 15 times for 68 yards. He joins 2023 Athletic HOF inductee Mike Miller (4,818) as the only Lopers to reach the 4k rushing mark (4,001).

Hosey (21) and Waverly sophomore back Zane Schawang (23) combined for 44 rushing yards with Schawang also having three grabs for 17 yards. A stout defensive effort 10 tackles (nine solo) from Webster, two sacks by Spies and Willis, eight tackles by linebacker Zach Schlager (McCook) and six stops from end Quillan Felton (Lithonia, Ga.).

UNK heads to No. 21 Central Missouri next Saturday. The Mules (4-1) out lasted Northwest Missouri today, 41-38.