Football begins with Kearney at UCO

Defensive Back Jamori Ray during the game against Kearney (The Vista/Jaydon Sims).

Hot temperatures weren’t enough to stop the Bronchos fans from packing out Chad Richison Stadium, and the Nebraska-Kearney Lopers’ defense wasn’t enough to stop the Bronchos running game from dominating the contest, as the UCO Bronchos won their season-opener 24-21. 

Despite the final score being so close, the Bronchos controlled the ball and the game for most of the evening, with 38:21 of possession time versus just 21:37 for the Lopers. A strong rushing attack was key for the victory and control of the ball, as UCO’s backfield combined for 247 yards, compared to just 88 for Kearney. 

Two-time MIAA Offensive Player of the Year and Harlon Hill Trophy Finalist, Lopers senior quarterback T.J. Davis, was contained to less than 250 total offensive yards by a fierce, youthful UCO defense. Davis was able to completely elude any sacks, however, and managed to score all 3 of the Lopers’ 3 touchdowns on the day. It looked like it would be a very different game for the Bronchos than it ended up being where Davis was concerned, as he completed a near-picture-perfect drive for the Lopers with a 21-yard touchdown pass to wideout Cole Brown with 8:12 left in the 1st quarter. The pass was a high lob, dropping in between defenders and into Brown’s hands like a flyball to the infield that caught all of the fielders off-guard and plopped on the ground, casually, between all of them. 

The Lopers continued to revert to their spread-option, read-option style of play with T.J. Davis, but the Bronchos defense looked like they had studied plenty of tape. From the 2nd quarter on, it was almost as if the defense knew what was coming just by the way Davis and his backs set up behind the offensive line. 

Defensive back emerged as a key position for the Bronchos: hard-nosed defensive back Jonathan Mosley led the charge on defense, finishing at the top of the stat sheet with 6 total tackles, 4 of them solo takedowns. J.K. Moore, a junior transfer from the Navarro Bulldogs, was tied for second in total tackles with 5. He also contributed arguably the game’s most exciting moment, when he intercepted a T.J. Davis pass and returned it 54 yards to score a huge touchdown that stretched the lead to 24-14 for the Bronchos. 

Prior to that, Davis had had another one of “those” kind of plays for the Lopers, where he seemed to make every defender miss before he launched a deep ball and placed it, ever so perfectly, right in the chest of his wide receiver. It was 2nd and 7 for the Lopers on their own 28-yardline, with about 12 minutes left to go in the 3rd quarter, when he did it. Rolling slightly to his right and making men miss as he did so, Davis went deep down the right side to his favorite target, wideout Cole Brown, for a 54-yard completion that set his team up with possession in the red zone. A few plays later, he punched it in for his only rushing touchdown of the day, cutting the Bronchos’ lead to 17-14. 

The ensuing drive for the Bronchos ended in a brutal missed field goal from the ever-reliable senior kicker Nicky Quevedo, putting the ball back in Davis’ hands with a chance to take the lead late in the 3rd quarter. Davis and the Lopers ran the ball three times for a 1st down, setting up the play of the game for the Bronchos. Davis, looking to his favorite wideout again, threw a lob towards the Bronchos sideline, where it was caught not by his intended target but by Broncho defensive back J.K Moore. The stadium went wild as he returned it all 54 yards for a massive score, the near-capacity student section making a particularly raucous noise. Even with nearly a quarter and a half remaining, the score gave the Bronchos more than just a 24-14 lead, but also gave them massive momentum.

Davis threw another 26-yard touchdown pass, this time to wide receiver Zorian Stanton, with 3:12 remaining in the game. But, despite his one-man-show heroics, the Bronchos bettered the score by 3 points when the clock had run out, churning out one last long drive to kill the clock and get the win.

The Player of the Game for the Bronchos had to be running back Trevon Woolfolk, a junior transfer from Northeastern A&M, who toted the rock for a team-leading 104 yards. That total included a game-long 23-yard carry, and a crucial 19-yard touchdown late in the 2nd quarter. The run game’s success was a point of focus for Coach Adam Dorrel in his postgame presser, saying “I thought our offensive line played well tonight. I’m proud of those guys… that came in at the end really battled against a good D-line.”

“I was cautiously optimistic,” Dorrel said, “I thought we could run the ball tonight and I thought we did.”

The passing game was an area that showed some missed opportunities, however, and Coach Dorrel touched on that as well. 

“The thing that I’m disappointed in is there’s 3 to 4 other receivers that have had really good fall camps and you just didn’t see that tonight,” he said. “And again, that goes back to some of the play-calling, and we’ve got to distribute the ball a little bit better… and some of the routes I thought could’ve been a little bit better.” 

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