Kearney rolls past Mavs in final RMAC matchup

Colorado Mesa quarterback Michael Mankoff gets off a pass as Nebraska-Kearney’s Alex Paicurich applies pressure Saturday in the Mavericks’ 52-10 loss at Stocker Stadium. Mankoff was in at quarterback because starter Steve Romero injured his right shoulder.

Trent deBraga, 5, looks for some running room on a kickoff return Saturday during Colorado Mesa’s 52-10 loss to Nebraska-Kearney at Stocker Stadium.

The defense kept the Colorado Mesa University football team in the game, but the offense couldn’t keep up.

The No. 11-ranked Nebraska-Kearney Lopers shut down Mesa in the second half, forced six turnovers and turned them into points in a 52-10 victory in their final RMAC game against Mesa on Saturday at Stocker Stadium.

“The turnovers killed us,” Mesa coach Joe Ramunno said. “We had a respectable game going, especially in the first half. We got out of position a little bit and against a good football team, you can’t do that.

“When you see 52 points, it looks like we didn’t do any good at all. I know we did some good things. We have a lot of young guys that will continue to grow.”

Mesa’s defense kept Kearney quarterback Jake Spitzlberger and the Lopers in check most of the first half, forcing four turnovers and making a goal-line stand, but the Mavericks couldn’t keep Kearney out of the end zone all day.

“Coach (Darin) Robidoux does an awesome job putting us in position,” said junior safety Trent deBraga, who led the team with 17 total tackles. “I thought it was a good game plan.

“It’s disappointing in a way. It’s tough as a defense to give up points like that when you work so hard on a game plan. It’s not the lack of preparation on the coaches. I think it’s us showing up and playing.”

Kearney (3-0, 1-0 RMAC), which came in leading the nation in total offense, produced 649 yards, including 413 passing, but had trouble moving the ball in the red zone. Spitzlberger completed 21 of 35 passes for 378 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 114 yards and two scores.

Mesa’s defense kept the Lopers out of scoring territory until four minutes left in the opening quarter when Spitzlberger completed an 8-yard pass to Eli Hammond for a touchdown.

The Lopers moved into scoring territory on their next drive, but Mesa stood tall on the goal line, with Mike Brady stopping Rustin Dring short of the goal line.

“I thought their defensive line handled our offensive line, especially in the red zone,” Kearney coach Darrell Morris said. “I told Coach Ramunno I was very impressed with his defensive line. Hats off to those guys.

“This is one of the places I’ll miss coming to. I think Joe Ramunno is a class guy. I think he runs a great program.”

Kearney went up 14-3 on a Spitzlberger 5-yard run, three plays after he completed a 10-yard pass on fourth down to keep the drive alive.

Mesa (1-2, 0-1 RMAC) came back with a touchdown drive, but lost new starting quarterback Steve Romero to a shoulder injury. Michael Mankoff came in for Romero and completed a 36-yard pass to Jay Knaus on a post route for a touchdown. Mesa trailed 14-10.

“I was a little surprised, I thought they would run the football at us,” Morris said. “I was surprised they came out and threw the football and did a nice job of it, actually.”

Kearney, though, came back with a quick score on Spitzlberger’s 69-yard pass to Tommy Flanagan for a 21-10 lead.

The Lopers added another touchdown before the half for a 28-10 lead.

The four touchdowns were more than enough for Kearney, which forced a turnover or made Mesa’s offense go three-and-out on eight consecutive possessions in the second half.

“We couldn’t get the running game going,” Mankoff said. “It just comes down to execution again. The coaches had us prepared pretty well. I think the position players take this one; the line played great again.”

Ramunno tried to give the offense a spark by replacing Mankoff with Robert Felberg, who started the first two weeks of the season, but to no avail.

Mesa attempted a fake punt late in the third quarter in an effort to get the offense going, but that didn’t work, either. Brady, who made the goal-line stand on defense in the first half, was tackled for a loss.

“We thought it was open and it might have been if Mike kept running,” Ramunno said. “We’re just trying to get something going, get some energy.

“We have to make sure we get first downs and move the chains. We got in trouble field position-wise.”

The Lopers, who are off to their best start in 17 years, limited Mesa to one touchdown, 66 rushing yards and 265 yards in total offense.

Kearney scored four times in the fourth quarter, including three touchdowns, to put the game away.


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