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The Antelope

Lopers playoff hopes in jeopardy following blowout loss

JIYOON KIM / ANTELOPE STAFF UNK linebacker Sione Taufalele is in disbelief after a penalty in a previous game.

There was a sold-out homecoming crowd in Maryville, Missouri, on Saturday as No. 17 UNK took on No. 8 Northwest Missouri State. Northwest Missouri dominated UNK 66-13 to take first place in the MIAA and a clear path to an automatic playoff berth.

The Lopers were in trouble immediately after Northwest Missouri’s Kaden Davis returned the opening kickoff for 90 yards to go up 6-0 after a missed extra point. 

“You go out there and you’re excited and ready to go and the very first play they come out and score a touchdown,” said UNK coach Josh Lynn. “It’s obviously not the way you want to start a game.”

UNK would respond on its first possession by scoring on a Damien Cearns 7-yard touchdown reception from quarterback T.J. Davis. This led to UNK’s only lead of the game at 7-6. 

It didn’t phase the Bearcats though as they would score on the ensuing drive with a 56-yard touchdown run by quarterback Mike Hohensee. The Bearcats scored on all six of their first-half possessions to lead at halftime 48-7.

“They continued drives and we didn’t,” Lynn said. “It just kind of spiraled and we lost momentum. You can’t do that against a good football team.”

UNK couldn’t get much going in the second half either and the game eventually saw backups getting in on both sides of the ball. 

The Lopers only had 61 yards rushing, which is the third-lowest they’ve had since Lynn took over as head coach, and the lowest since his first year coaching the team. 

“They had a good gameplan going in to kinda take the ball out of T.J.’s hands,” Lynn said. “It just goes back to not being able to run the ball on first down and that affects what you do on second and third down.”

Another issue for the Lopers was that their defense couldn’t get off the field on third down. Northwest Missouri converted on all five of its third downs in the first half, including two that went for touchdowns. Overall, they were eight for 10 on the game converting third-downs. 

“We couldn’t get pressure on the quarterback and when we did bring pressure that opens up different areas,” Lynn said. “The big thing was pass rush and they threw and completed balls.”

UNK dropped to No. 25 in the AFCA Coaches Poll and Northwest Missouri improved to No. 6.

Davis was a potential Harlon Hill candidate coming into this game, which is given to the most valuable player in Division II football. A game like this could make it harder for him to win the trophy this year, especially after barely playing against Lincoln in a blowout win the previous week.

The Lopers playoff chances are also slimmer after their largest loss under Lynn at UNK. With just two games left, UNK is currently eighth in their region and the top seven teams in the region make it to the playoffs. 

UNK will be on the road at Central Oklahoma on Saturday. 

“It’s a very improved Central Oklahoma team,” Lynn said. “You look at what they did the first year playing with a lot of young guys, those guys are kinda growing up a bit. It’s a very athletic defense.”

Central Oklahoma comes into the game with a 4-5 record following two close losses to Pittsburg State and Washburn. The game will be important for the Lopers to keep their playoff hopes alive. 

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