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Last-minute Lopers survive Central Oklahoma scare

Montrez Jackson has rushed for 284 yards this season. Photo provided by Nate Lilla / Antelope Staff

With a little over two minutes remaining, Central Oklahoma had a chance to cement a victory over UNK on fourth-and-1 from the UNK 24-yard line. The Bronchos set to go for it, but instead, a delay of game penalty set up a missed 45-yard field goal. 

The Lopers took over, down one point with 2 minutes, 11 seconds remaining. After UNK marched down the field, fifth-year kicker Junior Gonzalez stepped up on senior day with a walk-off 28-yard field goal to earn the 20-18 victory.

“Once he missed the field goal and I knew that we were going to be into position, that’s when the nerves really came,” Gonzalez said. “That’s when I had to go back to the field, go back to the basics and visualize me making the kick. Once I saw my guys out there around me I knew it was going to go in. Then blink it was done.”

The game-winning field goal was set up by several big plays, including two 10-plus yard receptions by JerQon Conners, a 16-yard reception by AJ McPhee and four runs by TJ Davis to get Gonzalez in range. 

“A lot of the plays that we did run in the two minutes we didn’t practice all week, we just had them in our back pocket,” Davis said. “It was there, we just had to execute and trust it. Just give credit to the guys out there playing, they play hard every day, we come to work and it showed off at the end.”

With 259 yards through the air in the loss at Northwest Missouri State and 179 versus Central Oklahoma, Davis has further shown his passing abilities. The fast-paced, final drive made the UNK offense even harder to slow down with him at the helm. 

“I think sometimes we get a bad rap at not being able to throw the football because of what we do offensively,” said UNK coach Josh Lynn. “It’s a credit to TJ, we probably need to throw the ball a little more.”

Davis went 13-for-21 with two touchdowns and one interception in the win, along with 91 yards on the ground.

Even with three lost fumbles and one interception, the Lopers were still able to hang on with the help of the defense. 

Jacey Nutter led the way with 15 tackles, including one for loss. He also had the sole interception for the Loper defense on Central Oklahoma’s opening second half drive. 

Nutter made another key play early in the fourth quarter to keep UNK within striking distance, tackling Bronchos running back Jaylen Cottrell in the backfield for a 2-yard loss on fourth-and-3 from the UNK 12-yard line. 

“The thing I’m most proud of is that I think you need to look at the defensive effort today,” Lynn said. “Offensively, we put our defense in some bad spots. Our defense responded and I think if you look at this victory, obviously Junior with the two field goals and the game-winner and then I think you have to look at the defensive effort.”

Now at 7-3 on the season, the Lopers only have one game remaining. The team is looking to carry the momentum forward from the senior day win and finish strong at Northeastern State on Saturday. 

Going 9-2 in the regular season a year ago, the Lopers won’t be able to match their record from a year ago, but a win over the RiverHawks would give them a chance to still compete in a bowl game if accepted. 

“It just feels so good to send them away from home with a victory,” Davis said. “That’s all we can do at this point and just control our own destiny with winning this last one.”

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KEVIN BURD, Sports Edior
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