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The Antelope

Loper defense impressing with added depth

Backup quarterback Sean Johnson Jr. leads the offense in a Saturday scrimmage, photo provided by Skylar Belt / Antelope Staff

The UNK football team comes into the 2022 season ranked No. 2 in the MIAA and No. 14 in the nation. The team is looking to build off the momentum of the 10-3 playoff season last year.

The defense was impressive in the spring and has continued to impress in the fall as they are planning to rotate many players in the front seven due to the depth.

“That’s what good defenses do, especially on the defensive front,” said UNK coach Josh Lynn. “You play as many on the team as you can play. In years past we might not have had that. This year I feel really good about playing multiple guys.”

The defensive line is led by Tell Spies, who had a team-high 5.5 sacks last season. The Lopers will also rotate Kasheem Stevenson, Ovahdyah Ben-Israel, Anthony Orajekwe and recently transferred CJ Sunui into the mix.” 

“It’s new to have depth at the D-line position,” Spies said. “That’s great. We can keep guys fresh and rotating in.

At linebacker, UNK returns three starters from last year in Jacey Nutter, Zach Schlager and Atoa Fox. Nutter returns as a four-year starter. 

“He comes out here to work every day and leads by example,” Lynn said. “You’re not going to outwork him.”

Schlager suffered a foot injury this fall and is expected to return to the team in October. The team’s depth at linebacker should help fill the hole that his injury will leave on the team. 

Sione Taufalele, Delonte Dickey, Jimmy Harrison and Amir Abdullah have all flashed at linebacker during fall camp and are expected to be in the rotation.

In the secondary, the Lopers graduated defensive back Terrell Williams and safety Blake Bubak last year. The team is looking at Gabe Amegatcher, Armani Webster and Keidre Taylor to fill those roles. They also return Jaylen Perkins at defensive back and All-MIAA safety Darius Swanson.

“I feel really good about that position too,” Lynn said. “It’s kind of been our Achilles’ heel the last couple of seasons, but they’ve done a good job here and I feel really good about that position right now.”

On offense, UNK returns Harlon Hill candidate TJ Davis who ran for 1,301 yards, passed for 2,234 and accounted for 39 touchdowns last season. Davis will also have a strong running back committee to help him run UNK’s signature triple-option offense. 

The Lopers return Montrez Jackson, Miko Maessner, Damien Cearns and Garrett Meyer, who all saw playing time last year. Redshirt freshman Zane Schawang has entered the mix this year and transfer Justin Carrasco may get some carries as well once he returns from a shoulder injury suffered this fall.

The group will look to replace the production of Dayton Sealey, who graduated last year.

“The biggest thing I’ll miss about Dayton is whenever we were down or needed a big play on third down, he was always the guy to pick us up,” Jackson said. “Just having him as a leader and somebody to lean on helped immensely.”

UNK returns JerQon Conners, Cody Nelson, Xavier Delk and Zorian Stanton at wide receiver. This can be a position that the Lopers rotate heavily as well and will need some guys to step into the mix.

On the offensive line, UNK returns two players on the left side in Kooper Reece and Hunter Hays. The right side of the line will need to be replaced as both Corey Hoelck and Matt Krzysztalowicz graduated last year.

“I think that right tackle spot, a guy that has really solidified himself is Cole Young,” Lynn said. “We still have three young men kind of competing for that right guard spot. It’s really come along nicely though.”

Northwest Missouri State took the top spot in the MIAA preseason polls and UNK will face them for homecoming this year on Oct. 29. The Lopers open their season at Missouri Southern on Sept. 1. UNK’s first home game will be on Sept. 8 against Pittsburg State, who is ranked No. 3 in the MIAA preseason polls. 

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GRANT TIGHE, Sports Editor
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