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UNK Football: Lopers Finally Get Past Rival Tigers, 38-20

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Kearney, Neb. – Quarterback TJ Davis threw three touchdown passes and the defense had three interceptions to help No. 19/23 Nebraska Kearney pull away from rival Fort Hays State, 38-20, Saturday night at Ron & Carol Cope Stadium.

The Lopers (4-1) snap a nine-game, 17-year losing streak to the Tigers and now lead the all-time series by a 35-32-1 margin. In his 2016 finale at Eastern New Mexico, head coach Josh Lynn lost to FHSU in the Heart of Texas Bowl.

"It feels pretty good. I'm extremely happy with the overall team effort tonight and really the defensive effort in the first half, the third quarter and even in the fourth," said Lynn on the KRVN radio post-game show. "They got back some of their starters tonight. Anytime we couldn't get going offensively tonight, which was quite a bit early in the game, our defense responded."

Hays made it 14-13 with just under seven minutes remaining in the third quarter but was wide left on the PAT. The Lopers responded with 24 unanswered points over the next 12 minutes to salt things away. The Tigers threw a short TD pass with a second remaining to finish the scoring.  

Davis (Colorado Springs) started the scoring run when he hit true freshman tight end Luke Blatchford (Lincoln SE) from 48 yards out late in the third. The call came on 3rd & 2 and was the second completion of the night for Davis. On the play, a wide-open Blatchford caught the ball, fought off the turf monster and some Tigers to be the first true frosh with a TD reception since receiver Lorenz Allen in 2016.

A sack by end Tell Spies (Mullen) and outside backer Willie Fair (Chula Vista, Calif.) helped stop the Tigers next drive. Davis then guided the offense on a 13-play, 82-yard drive that was aided by a Tiger offsides penalty on 3rd & 20. On the ensuing play, Davis hit a diving Zorian Stanton (St. Cloud, Fla.) for a 17-yard gain and a first down. After another third down conversion, senior receiver Xavier Delk (Aurora, Colo.) made a leaping 10-yard scoring reception with 8:53 to play.

"They did a good job defensively. They left some of their bigger people off the line and put out more speed defensive ends. They gave us a little trouble but credit to (Offensive Coordinator) Drew Thatcher for figuring them out and getting us in the right plays there in the third and fourth quarters," said Lynn.

Hays rolled the dice on the next drive but failed to convert on 4th & 10 from its own 35-yard line. On the very next play, UNK dialed up a flea flicker with Davis hitting junior slot Bailey Torres (Cerritos, Calif.) from 38 yards out and a 35-13 advantage. Senior kicker Junior Gonzalez (Corning, Calif.) nailed a 39-yard field goal with just over two minutes remaining to finish UNK's scoring.  

"(Davis to Blatchford TD toss) At the time we weren't moving the ball but at some point we knew we were going to have to take another shot," said Lynn. "We had been running a similar play to the short side of the field just about every third down situation. We thought it was a good time to throw the play-action pass to Luke."

All-Region QB Chance Fuller returned to the Tigers tonight after suffering a leg injury in a season-opening loss at Northwest Missouri State. Wearing a knee brace and getting hit hard several times by Loper defenders, he finished 21 of 32 for 219 yards, one TD and two picks. In two previous appearances against UNK, the fifth-year senior had thrown for 780 yards, six TD's and no INT's.

All-American safety Darius Swanson (Aurora, Colo.) picked Fuller off late in the first half to setup UNK's second TD. On the play, junior ILB Jimmy Harrison (Hobbs, NM) hit Fuller as he threw the ball with Swanson returning the ball 26 yards to the Tiger six. Davis called his own number two plays later for a 14-7 halftime lead.

Earlier in the second, Fuller saw his pass broken up by senior outside back Sione Taufalele (Santa Clara, Calif.) with junior safety Tre O'Guinn (Peoria, Ariz.) snagging it at the Loper five and returning it 38 yards. The final INT came against backup Jack Dawson with the culprit being senior outside backer Atoa Fox (San Diego). UNK's last three pick game came last fall in a win at Pittsburg State.

Davis finished 7 of 15 for 133 yards while running 25 times for 78 yards. Needing just 20 more passing yards to reach 4,000 in his career, he targeted eight different receivers with Stanton having two catches and back Damien Cearns (Denver) running eight times for 48 yards and one score.

Hays out gained UNK 370-297 but also ran 11 more plays and tallied 70 yards in the final minutes. Thedford senior inside backer Jacey Nutter (Thedford) had a team-best 12 tackles with Fox at eight and Swanson with seven. Nutter is four tackles shy of being the 19th Loper since 1990 to reach 200 tackles.

Besides Fuller, receiver Manny Ramsey had 10 catches for 134 yards to lead the Tigers.

UNK heads to Missouri Western State (2-3) next Saturday afternoon at four. The Griffons led Northwest, 3-0, at the half but eventually fell in Maryville, 16-3.

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