KEARNEY, Neb. — The final five minutes of No. 11 Central Missouri’s battle with Nebraska-Kearney on Saturday, Nov. 2, will be remembered in Mules lore for years to come.
Trailing by 10 on the road, Central Missouri rattled off 17-unanswered points, which included a 50-yard score on fourth down, a fumble recovery on the ensuing kickoff, a blocked game-winning field goal attempt and a 63-yard Hail Mary, to stave off Nebraska-Kearney 47-40 and move to 9-0 for the first time in program history.
“That was awesome. I’ve been in a lot of wild ones and we’ve had some not go our way, kind of like that, so I am not feeling real bad about pulling one off like this,” Central Missouri head coach Jim Svoboda said in his post game radio interview with Greg Hassler.
The comeback started with a fourth down conversion that turned into much more. Needing seven yards to keep the drive, and hopes of a perfect season alive, Shae Wyatt took a slant from Brook Bolles 50 yards for a score, making it a 40-37 game with four minutes, 57 seconds left.
On the following kickoff, UNK return man Darrius Webb coughed up the ball. Codie Bell, who had the game-winning interception return for a touchdown at Emporia State, added another game-saving turnover to his resume, pouncing on the ball at the Lopers 11-yard line.
The Mules picked up seven yards and milked 1:17 off the clock, but were unable to recapture the lead, instead settling for a game-tying 21-yard field goal by Sam Knowlton to knot things up at 40 with 3:31 remaining.
“I feel bad that we didn’t punch it in there,” Svoboda said. “You get the ball at the ten and you can kind of salt it away. That gives you a situation where they have to score a touchdown and I don’t know it that’s any better or not.”
Instead, Nebraska-Kearney marched down the field with its eyes set on a game-winning field goal.
The Lopers reached the Mules 13-yard line with 19 ticks left on the clock, setting up kicker Junior Gonzalez for a 30-yard field goal.
Central Missouri junior lineman Ubong Udom hurdled his blocker and swatted down the kick. Dylan Price scooped up the loose ball and took it out to the UCM 37.
Central Missouri needed just one play to avoid overtime and the Lopers upset bid.
Bolles took the snap, spun to his left and out of the pocket before unleashing a heave that would travel over 50-yards in the air into the waiting arms of Cam Saunders for the game-winning 63-yard score.
“That particular play is called cowboy and we have a designed dash by the quarterback and he reads the deep guy first and Cam got behind them and Bollzey (Bolles) threw a perfect pass,” Svoboda said.
The throw would cap off Bolles’ 464 yard day on 23 of 41 passing for five touchdowns and an interception.
Saunders eclipsed 100 receiving yards with his final reception, finishing with 117 yards and two scores while Wyatt led the Mules with 169 yards receiving and a pair of scores.
Saunders’ score secured Central Missouri’s ninth-straight win, a feat unmatched in the Mules 120 year history and gave Svoboda his 79th win as the Mules head coach, second all-time at UCM.
“That’s what football is all about,” Svoboda said. “You can plan all you want and what it comes down to is really the fortitude of the players and never taking themselves out of it mentally. The kids haven’t been on a rollercoaster from that standpoint, they just say, let’s go to the next play and it’s really pretty fun to watch. There was no panic.”
Central Missouri found itself in a dogfight from the onset of the afternoon.
The Mules got on the scoreboard first with Devante Turner taking in a carry from 18 yards out to finish off a nine-play, 89 yard drive for a 6-0 lead after a failed point after attempt.
Nebraska-Kearney answered with a 41-yard run by David Goodwin to take a 7-6 lead at the 3:32 mark of the first quarter.
The Lopers extended its lead with an eight-yard score from TJ Davis to Cody Summers.
UCM put together 10 unanswered points to regain the lead with a 34-yard field goal by Knowlton and a 26-yard hook-up between Wyatt and Bolles with 7:37 left in the first half.
The Lopers retook the lead on an 11-yard run by Davis.
Central Missouri led 23-20 at halftime following the first last-second connection between Saunders and Bolles, this time coming with 39 seconds remaining in the half on a 16-yard play.
Coming out of the break, UCM extended its lead out to double-figures, 30-20, with a 34-yard touchdown pass to Zach Davidson.
“When we got up ten there, I was feeling okay, but (Davis) was kind of the difference,” Svoboda said.
The Lopers redshirt-freshman quarterback accounted for 264 of 521 Nebraska-Kearney’s yards, throwing for a career-high 221 yards on 9 of 14 passing and rushing for 43 yards.
UNK’s comeback started with a 14-yard touchdown run by Goodwin, who amassed 191 rushing yards. Davis then hit Sedairus Young for a 78-yard score and Montrez Jackson from 15-yards out to turn the 10-point deficit into a 10-point lead.
Nebraska-Kearney’s final score of the afternoon came on an improbable sliding touchdown by Jackson, who swooped in to nab a batted pass in the end zone with 12:14 left.
“You have some thoughts going through your head at that point that maybe it’s not the ol’ Mules day, but the kids wouldn’t be denied,” Svoboda said.
Knowlton missed a 46-yard field goal before the Mules embarked on its comeback.
Central Missouri finished the game with 606 yards of offense.
Turner finished as the Mules leading rusher with 94 yards on 22 carries while Koby WIlkerson added 57 yards on nine carries.
Central Missouri will host Lincoln at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 9, with a share of the MIAA title on the line. The Blue Tigers have one win on the season — 27-9 over winless Northeastern State — and are coming off a 66-6 loss to Fort Hays State.