Nov. 14, 2009

Courtesy Nebraska-Kearney Athletics

Kearney, Neb. - The 6th-ranked Nebraska-Kearney football team scored 28 unanswered points to beat 16th-ranked Saginaw Valley State of Michigan, 35-20, Saturday afternoon in an NCAA Division II playoff game at Ron & Carol Cope Stadium at Foster Field.

In front of a crowd of 3,500, UNK (11-1) wins its first-ever Division II playoff game (1-2), wins its first-ever home postseason game (1-4) and wins its first postseason game since then-Kearney State won an NAIA 1st round playoff game in 1980.

The Cardinals, from the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, end the year at 9-3. They are now 4-6 in six all-time Division II playoff appearances.

UNK will play defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth next Saturday in Duluth. Game time is TBA. The Bulldogs are the top seed in Super Regional 3.

In a battle of two teams that run an identical spread offense, and two teams that had defenses that were very tough against the run, UNK got in gear after trailing 20-7 and having four 1st half turnovers.

The Lopers grabbed the lead for good -- its first-ever lead in a D2 playoff game -- when sophomore QB Jake Spitzlberger threw a 17-yard TD pass to junior receiver Brendan Liess early in the 4th quarter.

Senior Jordan Alegria booted the PAT to make it 21-20 UNK; Saginaw kicker Austin Borchard missed two PAT's on the day. SVSU did convert one two-point conversion.

After forcing a three and out, UNK went 60 yards in nine plays to make it a 28-20 ball game with 5:45 left to play. On 3rd  and goal from the Cardinal one, Spitzlberger found senior receiver Tyrone Hilton.

Both teams were successful on 3rd down all day, UNK going 6 of 12 and Saginaw converting 10 of 18 chances.

Saginaw was in position to possibly to the the game but redshirt freshman ILB Justin Swedburg tipped a pass from Charles Dowdell and junior end Mason Brodine picked it off at the UNK 14-yard line with 3:07 left.

Earlier in the 2nd half, the Cardinals turned the ball over on downs at the Loper 27-yard line and then Swedburg recovered a fumble at the Loper 20-yard line early in the 4th with SVSU leading 20-14.

The fumble was caused by a blitzing Pat Ackerman; the sack was UNK's only one of the day as the slippery Dowdell got out of several jams and made plays with both his feet an arm.

Two plays after Brodine's INT, sophomore running back Rustin Dring went 77 yards to setup his own five yard scoring run at the 1:33 mark.

Saginaw started the scoring when Dowdell threw a 16-yard pass to Zach Cecich at 6:53 of the 1st quarter. A 3-yard TD pass to tight end Galen Stone early in the 2nd quarter made it 14-0 Saginaw.

UNK appeared to grab the momentum back when Hilton caught a 16-yard TD pass with 17 seconds left in the half. The play capped a 64 yard drive that took only 54 seconds.

However, the ensuing kick off went out of bounds, giving SVSU the ball at their own 40-yard line. Two plays later, Dowdell got out of a sack and found Nick Gallina for a 44-yard gain to the Loper one yard line. With 1 second remaining, Brandon Hayes rumbled in for the score

Lopers of the Game
Dring (So., RB, Kearney H.S.) - 23 carries for 188 yards (144 after halftime) and 2 TD's; 3 catches for 22 yards; 6th straight 100 yard game & 9th of the season
Spitzlberger (So., QB, Lakewood, Colo.) - 16 of 28 for 184 yards, 3 TD's & 2 INT's; 10 carries for 41 yards; sets a new season school-record for rushing yards by a Loper QB - 674
Hilton (Sr., WR, Miami, Fla.) - 4 catches for 42 yards & 2 TD's
Kyle Kaiser (Jr., WR, Broomfield, Colo.) - 4 catches for 77 yards; now at 101 career catches
Liess (Jr., WR, McCook) - 3 catches for 22 yards & 1 TD; 4 carries for 51 yards

Jake Mandelko (Sr., S, Lexington) - 13 tackles, including 2 TFL
Pat Ackerman (Sr., S, Holdrege) - 11 tackles, including 1 sack; 1 forced fumble
Chris Senkbile (Jr., OLB, Central City) - 9 tackles, 2 pass breakups
Eric Scheele (Sr., ILB, Utica) - 8 tackles
Josh Rohde (Jr., DL, Eddyville) - 7 tackles

Jordan Alegria (Sr., K, North Platte) - 5 for 5 on PAT's; 4th Loper to reach 100 points in a season (103)