SCOTT MANDZIARA | Sports Editor
Lindenwood defensive back A.J. Dudley blocked a punt with 2:25 to go in the game on Saturday to help lead the Lions to victory over Nebraska-Kearney, 35-31.
The Lions were off to a hot start after nearly recovering a fumble on the opening kickoff. Just two plays into the opening drive, defensive lineman Antonio Davis forced a fumble, and it was recovered by defensive back Ricky McCoy.
The Lions had a short field to work with, starting at the 34 yard line. It took just four plays, but the drive was capped off by quarterback Najee Jackson’s 3-yard rushing touchdown to give the Lions a 7-0 lead.
The Lopers would respond on the following drive. An 11-play drive would end with a 11-yard rush from Darrien Daniels for a Loper touchdown, according to Lindenwood Athletics, and then kicker Brendan Wentling would miss the extra point.
Lindenwood would stay efficient on offense after a drive of just over two minutes in length would end with a 39-yard pass from Jackson to redshirt freshman Kai Collier.
That would be the last time Lindenwood scored until the second half. The Lopers started the second quarter with a three-yard touchdown from running back Dayton Sealey to cut the lead to 14-13. Nebraska-Kearney would then tack on a 29-yard field goal to give the Lopers a 16-14 lead at the half.
The second half started off with some trickery. On the first play of the second half from scrimmage, Jackson pitched the ball to former quarterback Mason Bendigo, who then threw the ball to a wide-open Collier down the field for a 68-yard touchdown.
Collier’s final stat line was five catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns, which led the team.
The Lions’ hot start to the second half continued in their second drive. A nine-play drive would be finished off by a 18-yard rushing touchdown from Calen Campbell, which would extend the Lions’ lead to 28-16.
Much like the first half, the Lopers responded. Quarterback Steve Worthing found Sealey for a 38-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 28-23.
Then Jackson threw an interception on the ninth play of Lindenwood’s drive at the end of the third quarter. But senior captain Bakari Triggs would intercept Worthing on the first play of the fourth quarter.
“Nothing really changed,” Triggs said. “I guess the offense felt the need to try my side a little bit more this game than previous games.”
The Lions were unable to capitalize on the interception and were forced to punt. Michael Crowder would pin the Lopers deep, a 62-yard punt that was downed at the one yard-line.
Triggs would intercept Worthing again on the third play of the drive. Triggs had just one interception all year prior to Saturday’s game.
The first play of the following drive by the Lions was a turnover. Running back Shakeem Wharton had fumbled for the second time in the game.
The Lopers would rally and go on a nine play 75-yard drive to take the lead 31-28 with 8:01 to play.
Lindenwood drove down the field, and on a third and 5 on the Lopers’ 35, Jackson was sacked to make it fourth and 10. Coach Jed Stugart decided to pin the Lopers deep rather than go for it.
“Trust,” Stugart said. “That’s been our word the last few weeks. Trust in our defense.”
Nebraska-Kearney would force Lindenwood to use all three timeouts. The Lopers were held on first down. Then a 9-yard first-down rush by Daniels made hope feel lost in Harlen C. Hunter stadium. The Lions would hold the Lopers on first and second downs, then Ace Rodgers held up Daniels on a third and 6 to force a punt by the Lopers.
Lopers punter Grant Buschkoetter does a rugby style punt, which means the punt doesn’t sail very high. Defensive back A.J. Dudley took advantage of that, as he rushed the punter and leaped high to block the punt and was successful. Dudley then went on to recover it at the Lopers 15-yard line.
After 2 rushes by Campbell, one being a 7-yard touchdown, the Lions regained the lead 35-31 with 45 seconds to play.
Campbell would finish with 15 carries for 107 yards and 2 touchdowns.
“They were getting push up front and I could see the holes,” Campbell said. “My job from there was kind of easy.”
The following drive, Worthing had a chance at a Hail Mary, but the pass would go incomplete and the Lions would go on to win 35-31.
Lindenwood improved to 3-5 on the season and snapped a four-game losing streak. Next Saturday the Lions will be on the road in Joplin, Missouri, taking on 0-9 Missouri Southern at 2 p.m.