Two Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association teams opened their season on Saturday. Nebraska-Kearney traveled to legendary Carnie Smith Stadium looking to end a 12-game losing streak to Pittsburg State. Would the Lopers fall for the unlucky 13th-consecutive game on this DII football Halloween Saturday?
UNK walked away winners, 31-26 in a thriller and spoiling Brian Wright’s debut as a DII football head coach. The Gorillas' recovered a fumble late in the fourth quarter, but fell just short of what would have been a remarkable comeback. It was a battle between two of the MIAA's best sophomore quarterbacks with one dominating the air and the other controlling the ground game.
DII football scoreboard: Saturday's schedule and scores
Here are three takeaways from the first MIAA football action of 2020.
UNK rushes its way to victory on Saturday
The classic rock group Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 1970 hit “Run Through the Jungle” could have been the anthem for Saturday’s game. The Lopers — who led the MIAA in rushing a season ago — ran all over the DII football stadium known as ‘The Jungle’ to many, rushing their way to 207 yards in the first half alone. It helped UNK dominate the time of possession and shorten the game.
Credit the Gorillas defense, holding the Lopers to just 80 yards rushing in the second half. But it wasn't so much the length of the runs as it was the duration of the drives. The Lopers controlled the clock for nearly the entire first half and more than 36 minutes in total on Saturday, controlling the tempo and forcing Pittsburg State to score quickly.
|UNK’s big day rushing|
|Rushing yards||UNK - 287||Pitt State - 132|
|Dayton Sealey||105 yards|
|TJ Davis||91 yards||4 TD|
|Montrez Jackson||51 yards|
|Joe Stiffend||31 yards|
|Garrett Meyer||12 yards|
Mak Sexton career-best game in 2020 DII football opener
Mak Sexton shared the quarterback duties in 2019 as a freshman. Last year, he threw for just 78 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions while splitting time in the Gorillas victory over UNK.
He was a much improved quarterback in his sophomore debut.
It was the best day of his young career by far — his highest passing total in his first season was just 262 yards. He threw for 398 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday. And it wasn’t a perfect game by any means, which means he could have been even better. His rhythm was off early on, making quite a few overthrows. But he came out firing in the second half. The sophomore play caller hit Dylan White in stride to connect for a 72-yard touchdown on the Gorillas' first drive of the third quarter and he never slowed.
Sexton had two wide receivers break the 100-yard mark and hit three different receivers for touchdowns, with White just missing the game-winner in the final seconds. He also hasn't thrown a pick since Oct. 26 of last year, making this his fourth-straight game without an interception. Watching him get comfortable in Wright's offense — behind an offensive line that didn't allow a sack none the less — must have been frightening for the other MIAA teams to watch on Saturday.
|The Gorillas Mak Attack|
|Passing yards||Pitt State 398||UNK 154|
|Mak Sexton||398 passing yards||3 TD|
|Christian Carter||153 receiving yards||1 TD|
|Dylan White||105 receiving yards||1 TD|
|Jalen Martin||58 receiving yards||1 TD|
|Tyler Akins||40 receiving yards|
|Kaizer Newell||29 receiving yards|
|Devon Garrison||13 receiving yards|
What we learned in the first MIAA action of the season
Nebraska-Kearney had its first winning season since 2011 last year. That season was highlighted by an upset of No. 7 Northwest Missouri State and concluded with a 50-33 win in the Mineral Water Bowl. TJ Davis had 148 yards rushing and four touchdowns in the 2019 season finale.
We learned Saturday that was no fluke. The reigning MIAA freshman of the year ran wild, but showed off his arm, connecting with Michael Koch for two of his five pass completions and 90 of his 154 yards. He connected on three pass plays over 30 yards, setting up the versatile Davis in the red zone and letting him run amok.
Pittsburg State's Brian Wright is just the second head coach to lose his Gorillas' debut since the post-Carnie Smith era began in 1976. But the offensive prowess he became known for with Toledo was certainly on display in the second half. While the Gorillas weren't able to add to their DII football record wins total (for more on that, tap or click here) on Saturday, it looks like plenty of wins are on the way in the future.