KEARNEY, Neb. — As the final seconds ticked off the game clock with Northwest Missouri State University football down against Nebraska-Kearney, the Bearcats knew what was about to happen was avoidable.
The No. 7 ranked Cats (6-1, 6-1 MIAA) were handed their first loss of the season by the Lopers (5-2, 5-2 MIAA) 24-17 thanks to 21 unanswered points, self-inflicted wounds, and an anemic offensive performance.
“I’m frustrated,” Rich Wright said after the game. “We didn’t play well. We dug ourselves way too big of a hole. You’re not going to win a game in the MIAA when you go minus three in the turnover margin. We gave up four turnovers today.”
Northwest started the game with an interception and it wouldn’t soon go up from there. The next three possessions for the Bearcats would end in a punt and two fumbles leading to 14 points from the Lopers.
Nebraska-Kearney was delt good field position on both of its scoring drives. The Lopers took over in Bearcats’ territory three times in their first four possessions.
“I’ll take full responsibility for it,” sophomore quarterback Braden Wight said about the offense’s slow start. “I wasn’t putting the ball straight on the money. Even if it hits the receiver’s hands, I can always put the ball just a bit better.”
Redshirt freshman quarterback TJ Davis engineered a 30-yard drive after the interception capped off with a 12-yard touchdown pass to running back Darrius Webb. Davis would find the endzone from two yards out after the Lopers got the ball thanks to a Bearcats’ fumble to make the score 14-0 going into halftime.
Northwest was unable to cross the goal line in the first half since Nov. 20, 2010, against Missouri Western.
“I talked all week that this was going to be a game (and) that we needed to respect the heck out of Kearney,” Rich Wright said. “I just felt like from an execution standpoint, we made way too many mistakes. We got to make plays in critical situations and in the first half we didn’t do that.”
After the halftime break, the Lopers took a three-score lead on the Bearcats with a methodical 14 play 75-yard drive that took 6:48 seconds off the clock.
Northwest would answer with a 13-yard Braden Wright touchdown run for the Bearcat’s first point of the day. Sophomore cornerback Trey Washington would come down with an interception in the endzone but the Cats were unable to make any points out of it as the offense went three-and-out.
Nebraska-Kearney couldn’t keep Imoni Donadelle out of the endzone as the junior wide receiver hauled in a 38-yard touchdown pass from Braden Wright as the third quarter expired to put Northwest in striking distance.
The Bearcat’s defense would only allow three points on the next drive but the offense would come up short just mustering a field goal in the final 10:44 of the game. Two fourth-quarter drops plagued the offense’s progression on its game tieing drives.
“It was just lack of execution,” Rich Wright said. “We dropped a ton of footballs. We looked out of sync. We just have to play a lot better if we’re going to be a playoff team.”
The Lopers rushed for 228 yards against the Bearcats as Davis rushed for 110 yards on 23 carries. The redshirt freshman became the first player to rush for more than 100 yards against the Bearcats since 2014.
Nebraska-Kearney also dominated the time of possession. The Lopers were on offense for 41:57 of the game, controlling the tempo with their running attack.
“They’ve got good skill kids,” Rich Wright said. “What that offense is designed to do is make you tackle in one-on-one situations and No. 2 (Davis) is a good football player.”
Northwest will turn its attention to Lincoln (1-6, 1-6 MIAA) as the Blue Tigers come to Maryville for homecoming. Lincoln is coming off a 27-9 win against Northeastern State.
“I was proud of our kids for fighting back but it was too little too late,” Rich Wright said. “So now we have to go back to work on Monday.”