Six quarterbacks, seven losses.
It adds up to a rough debut in the MIAA for the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
In a football season like no other, injuries have touched almost every position. None has been hit as hard as quarterback, where the Lopers (0-7) played their sixth QB in last Saturday’s last-second 34-27 loss to previously winless Lincoln.
“It’s tough, it’s definitely tough,” junior Matt Berry said. “Every week we just talk about staying together as a team.”
Berry, a wide receiver who hadn’t played quarterback since his high school days at McCook, was quarterback No. 4. He was the first Nebraska native to start there for the Lopers in seven years.
He was knocked out after a game-and-a-half. He started against Northwest Missouri State but strained a hamstring in practice the next week. He tweaked it in the first half against Lindenwood.
“It’s been one of those years where you get one guy back from the training room and send two new ones in there,” UNK coach Darrell Morris said.
The Lopers went through their three true quarterbacks in three games.
Redshirt freshman Aric Kaiser made it through the opener, a 24-14 loss at Washburn on Aug. 30. In the second game, a 58-35 loss to Emporia State, Morris was looking for a spark and sent in senior Kevin Romero. He drove the Lopers to a touchdown, only to then tear his ACL.
Kaiser was next in a 38-14 loss to Missouri Western on Sept. 15, when the Lopers also lost sophomore backup Tyler D’Amore. Both injured their shoulders and both tried to continue playing.
D’Amore hurt his shoulder after six plays. Kaiser came back in, was hurt again and D’Amore finished up. He was able only to hand off.
Both are out for the season.
That forced Morris to start looking at offensive players who played quarterback in high school. He figured that they’d be more familiar with the plays than someone on defense.
“They’ve all been troopers about it and taken on the challenge,” Morris said. “We’ve been pleased with the response — they’re doing it for the team and the seniors.”
Berry told coaches that he’d be willing to play quarterback. He spent hours studying film with the coaches and stayed after practice working with receivers.
Still, he was so nervous he almost didn’t sleep the night before the Northwest Missouri game Sept. 22. After a few plays, though, he felt like he was back running the show at McCook.
He rushed for 85 yards and a touchdown and was 18 of 29 for 163 yards and another score in a 37-13 loss.
“It was definitely fun,” he said. “Each week, the team really does a good job with supporting who the team goes with back there.”
After he was hurt, Berry tried to play against Lindenwood but made it through just a half.
After Berry’s injury, Morris decided to take Sean Flanagan out of a redshirt season. He didn’t even have a number until the third week of the season.
In playing the second half against Lindenwood and all of the Truman State game the next week, Flanagan became the first true freshman to play quarterback for the Lopers since 1965.
Flanagan sat out Saturday’s loss to Lincoln for violating team rules. That’s when Morris went to Justin Drudik, a fifth-year senior from Adams Central who started at quarterback before moving to receiver in 2010.
He ran for 36 yards and a touchdown and was 22 of 37 for 294 yards and a score. He was intercepted three times.
Though he’d been doing some work as backup QB, he had three days of reps with the starters before the game.
“We had 500 yards of offense with a kid who hadn’t played quarterback in four years,” Morris said.
Like Berry, Drudik said it felt good to be back at his old spot, though there was a lot more pressure playing in college. That, the timing with receivers and the speed of the game were the biggest challenges, he said. And, of course, staying healthy.
“It was nice to be the one to make it through it,” Drudik said. “You never know who is next around our facility.”
With the return of Flanagan and possibly Berry, Morris could have three quarterbacks for Saturday’s 11 a.m. home game with Southwest Baptist (1-6). Drudik will be the starter, the coach said, with Berry as backup if he’s healthy.
Drudik is proud of his team and how they’ve stayed positive through adversity. Everyone, he said, is giving a full effort.
“We plan on winning this week,” he said. “We just have to take care of business. We’re close all the time to winning — it’s just little things here and there.”
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