The surprise so far of the young season in the MIAA has been the Nebraska-Kearney Lopers, who join traditional powerhouses Northwest Missouri State and Pittsburg State as the only unbeaten teams in the conference after Week 2.
UNK, picked 10th in both MIAA preseason polls after going 3-8 last year, knocked off Central Oklahoma with a 31-27 win on the road last Thursday night. The Lopers smashed Missouri Southern 45-0 in the season opener.
In the closest game of the week, UNK scored the game-winning touchdown with 1:11 left against UCO on a 1-yard plunge from Luke Quinn. UCO then drove down to UNK 20 but the Lopers broke up a pass as time expired.
UNK relied on a 284-yard rushing attack, led by Darius Webb’s 86 yards rushing with a touchdown. Quinn ran for two scores.
After being held back by offensive woes last year, Northwest Missouri’s offense took flight against Washburn behind a breakout performance by redshirt freshman quarterback Braden Wright.
Wright racked up 351 total yards and accounted for three touchdowns in the Bearcats’ 38-17 win at WU.
“Obviously, as you got to see tonight, when the play breaks down, he can be at his best,” Bearcat coach Rich Wright told The Topeka Capital-Journal. “And he’s so explosive and gets himself out of trouble.”
Pittsburg State has carried over its late-season surge from last year into the start of this season, outscoring Emporia State 21-0 in the fourth quarter to notch a 34-13 win at ESU’s Welch Stadium on Thursday.
PSU quarterback John Roderique passed for 220 yards while Gorilla receiver Lorenzo West caught five passes for 120 yards.
The Gorillas are on an eight-game winning streak dating back to last year.
Tigers and Ichabods set to clash
Missouri Western ended Fort Hays State’s streak of 13 straight MIAA victories by knocking off the defending MIAA champions 23-13 on Thursday in St. Joseph, Mo.
The Tigers were hurt by three interceptions and gave up a late touchdown on a short punt return.
“We’re going to get after it,” FHSU coach Chris Brown said after the game. “We’re going to turn it up a little bit in practice. We’re going to be physical. We’re going to be all over these kids until they start getting things right.
“Right now, I think these kids are taking things a little too easy. They just think we can roll into some place and win the ballgame, and that’s not the case. This conference is tough. You better be ready to go each week and we’re going to fix that this week.”
The Tigers (1-1) will play host to Washburn at 7 p.m. on Saturday night in Lewis Field Stadium.
The Ichabods led on two occasions against Northwest, including a 17-14 advantage early in the third quarter, before surrendering 24 unanswered points.
Washburn (1-1) was hurt by missed opportunities in Bearcat territory, most notably when they were stuffed on a fourth-and-short in the redzone while trailing by 14 points in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve got to watch film, get better from it and then just wipe it away and it’s gone and focus on Fort Hays,” said Washburn quarterback Blake Peterson, who threw for 275 yards and two touchdowns against Northwest. “One loss doesn’t define our season at all. We can go 10-1 and win out and it’s a great year so we’re not going to dwell on this.’’
HORNETS TRAVEL TO UNK
Emporia State will look to hand Nebraska-Kearney its first loss as ESU aims to recover from the Pitt State loss.
The Hornets, who will face UNK on the road at 2 p.m. Saturday, led 13-10 at halftime against PSU before being shut out in the second half.
“That was a tough one there, because we felt like — I don’t want to say we were in control of the game — but we felt good where we were at going in at halftime,” ESU coach Garin Higgins said Monday during HornetTalk on KVOE radio in Emporia. “We were able to execute the game plan as we wanted to on both sides of the football. Then, in the third quarter we couldn’t get anything going offensively and we couldn’t get the ball back.”
ESU running back Landon Nault ran for 177 yards and a touchdown but the Hornets managed just 77 yards through the air against Pitt.
WHAT THE POLLS SAY
The MIAA now has four teams represented in the American Football Coaches Association Division II poll released Monday.
Northwest Missouri moved up to No. 4 while Fort Hays State dropped 12 spots to No. 17.
Central Missouri went up one spot to No. 17 while Pittsburg State checked into the poll at No. 23.
Emporia State and Missouri Western received votes.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Northwest’s Wright was named MIAA offensive player of the week while Missouri Western took the other two honors, with Jabbar Miles earning the defensive award and Brandin Dandridge taking the honor on special teams.
Miles had two interceptions in the FHSU redzone and added seven tackles to help the Griffons take down the Tigers. Dandridge averaged 28 yards per punt return and went 58 yards on his first return of the night to set up the Griffons’ first touchdown.
Wright rushed for 118 yards and two scores while passing for 233 yards and a TD against Washburn.