Loper defense prevails late over offense in spring game


TJ Davis looks at coaches for a play call. Photo by Nate Lilla / Antelope Staff


The Ryan Held era has begun for Loper football.

In the spring game on Saturday, the Loper defense took advantage of a unique scoring system, beating the offense 33-30.

“It was good to get out there,” Held said. “I thought it was pretty efficient and both sides had successful plays.” 

The intra-squad scrimmage was divided between defense and offense. The defense could score one point by getting a sack, two points by getting a stop and four points by creating a turnover. The offensive scoring was familiar, with touchdowns, field goals and PATs. 

After trailing at the half 20-13, the offense scored 14 unanswered points with Jamaal Joseph and Damien Cearns each scoring rushing touchdowns, taking the 27-20 lead. One of those drives was a “special situation” as the offense started just 20 yards away from the endzone before capitalizing and punching it in for six.

The defense bounced back with Delonte Dickey and Chris Valdez recording back-to-back sacks for a point each. A stop then added two more points for the defense. After two more team sacks that led to another stop, the defense had regained the lead, 29-27. One more stop and a sack from Auburn transfer Joko Willis was enough for the defense to seal the deal. 

“We got out of the game healthy, which is the most important thing,” Held said. “We still have a lot of work to do.” 

The offense used a variety of tempos which may be a preview of what is to come in the fall. They would consistently speed up the offensive tempo in the red zone. 

New offensive coordinator Colby Ellis also used lots of pre-snap motions and formation shifts to be unpredictable. There was more pocket passing than Loper fans have been accustomed to seeing from quarterback TJ Davis in the past. 

“I’m trying to open up that part of my game,” Davis said. “I want to show people that I’m not just a running quarterback and I can throw it around a little bit.”

The Loper offense finished the game with 57 rushes and 54 passes for a more balanced attack than seen under the previous staff.

Defensively, the Lopers were highly aggressive. Tim Schaffner, the new defensive coordinator, blitzed consistently. There were multiple times in the game on third-and-long where Schaffner was sending corners off the edge to create pressure on the quarterback. UNK has quickness on the outside, which allowed them to play a lot of press-man coverage and rush five to six guys in the interior. 

Safety Nolan Wetovick, the lone turnover creator with an interception, broke down what they are trying to accomplish on defense.

“The defense sets us up to go make plays,” Wetovick said. “We got to play with confidence and know that everyone to the left and right of you is going to do their job.”

Wetovick led the defense with nine tackles including one tackle for loss. Tywan Muturi finished the game with eight tackles. Valdez and TJ Griffin also had six tackles each on the defensive line. 

Although the offense and defense had moments of positivity, the special teams for the Lopers played poorly. Kyle Failing struggled to dial in on field goals, as he missed a 28-yarder and a 56-yarder. He did manage to put a 33-yard field goal through the uprights. Spencer Hogeland missed a chip shot from 20 yards and had an extra point doink off the upright. The two combined for a 25% success rate on field goals. This was especially concerning to Coach Held because the defense wasn’t live or rushing to block the kicks. 

“I got on the kickers in the first half because we left some points on the table,” Held said. “I was disappointed. You don’t get to rekick it. This generation is used to video games – hitting restart. But we got to make it.” 

The Lopers will open up their season on the road at Central Oklahoma on Aug. 31. Their first home game will be against Northeastern State on Sept. 9.

JerQon Conners led the Lopers with seven catches for 80 yards. Photo by Nate Lilla / Antelope Staff