As another opportunity slipped through the University of Northern Colorado football team’s hands Saturday against McNeese State, a collective groan was let out at Nottingham Field.
“We just can’t catch a break,” a parent of one player muttered.
Frankly, that was the story of the Bears 17-14 loss in their season opener Saturday.
No matter what goes right, there is always a way it can end up going wrong.
And though there were a number of positives, there are improvements to be made on both sides of the ball.
On offense, while Knipp was impressive when his passes connected, the running game was stalemated, whether it was four-year starter Trae Riek or Wyoming transfer Milo Hall. On defense, the linebackers and defensive line produced some hard hits, but covering the flats proved to be UNC’s Achilles heel.
Special teams left much to be desired, especially kicker, Collin Root. The normally trusty Root missed three field goals in the Bears three-point loss.
The returners did what they could, but were allowed only a handful of kick return chances.
How it Happened
UNC received the ball to start the game and marched down the field steadily until they got into McNeese territory. After the offense sputtered out, the Root attempted a 51-yard field goal, but missed to the left.
McNeese State got its chance with the ball and made the most of it. Quarterback James Tabary hit Parker Orgeron for a big gain, opening up the running game and eventually culminating in a two-yard touchdown run by Justin Pratt.
UNC tried desperately to counter with a score but was continuously on offense.
McNeese State continued to move the ball — both on the ground and through the air — but the Bears were able to limit the rest of the damage to just a field goal.
Second Quarter: McNeese State 10, UNC 0
After a troublesome performance early by the Bears defense, it strengthened and allowed no more points for the rest of the game.
But while the defense improved, the offense continued to struggle to find its footing.
The Bears tried to get the run game started on numerous occasions, but the offensive line’s youth became evident. The big guys in the trenches were not able to create the running lanes needed.
McNeese’s next drive brought them all the way to the UNC 4 yard line before it stalled. The Cowboys went for it on fourth and Goal, with Tabary attempting a quarterback draw to the left, but the UNC defense held strong and drove him back into the grass.
That stop gave the crowd an incredible burst of enthusiasm that could not be contained.
Unfortunately, the enthusiasm would be thwarted on UNC’s next drive. The offense seemed to start clicking well until an errant pass up the middle was intercepted and McNeese State returned it for a touchdown.
The somber Bears were not defeated, but certainly discouraged heading into halftime.
Third Quarter: McNeese State 17, UNC 0
The third was the quarter of missed opportunity for both teams. McNeese’s drives would consist of a punt, blocked field goal, and a fumble after UNC’s defense really found themselves.
The Bear’s offense saw sparks of life, but was only able to produce two drives within field goal range, and both attempts failed.
Collin Root, who was a hero last season setting a school record with a 56-yard field goal as time expired against Idaho State, just could not connect with anything other than the PATs.
4th Quarter: McNeese State 17, UNC 0
It was now or never for UNC. Step up or lose.
The Bears made huge strides in the right direction with a great touchdown drive to open the quarter. They steadily moved down the field, picking up yardage on the ground and through the air.
Knipp threw a good ball to Patrick Stephens, who did the rest himself, juking a defender to open up the field and score.
The Bears were finally on the board.
“17 points down we still felt like we had a chance,” Knipp said. “Defense was doing their job and making stops. We had a couple drives going and it was self inflicted.
“Whether it was penalties or missed assignments or whatever it may be, we hurt ourselves.”
The next drive McNeese State was gaining momentum until Sherand Boyd Jr. picked off Tabary. As he was being tackled he pitched the ball to Michael Walker who ran for the touchdown.
The Bears would force a McNeese State turnover on downs, leaving the Bears one drive to make a comeback. They got to midfield, but Knipp threw his second interception of the game.
UNC forced McNeese State to punt and got four more downs to use. They used all four, but were unable to prevail.
“I think the players really tried hard this game,” Bears coach Earnest Collins Jr., said. … “We know what we have to work on and improve in practice.”
The Mirror’s Keys to the Game Checklist
Establish the run? No. Trae Riek and Milo Hall both had production troubles.
Offensive line protection? Needs work. The first half was night and second half was day. Spread the ball around? Yes. Knipp did well at trying to use every position.
Stop the run? No. Justin Pratt had his way with the defense most of the day.
Contain Lawayne Ross? Yes! Negative three receiving yards is exceptional.
Third down efficiency? Yes. 5/15 is good, but the Bears own was only 3/15.