By TYLER ELLYSON
MARYVILLE, Mo. – Sections AA and BB stood out like a blue and gold oasis inside Bearcat Stadium.
Among the nearly 9,000 people in attendance Saturday afternoon, it was easy to spot the Loper faithful who made the trip to Maryville to cheer on the University of Nebraska at Kearney football team.
The homecoming contest against now sixth-ranked Northwest Missouri State (7-1) was the biggest game in a decade for the Lopers, and their fans responded by snatching up all the visitors section tickets a full two weeks before the top 20 showdown.
“It’s absolutely growing. You can see it at the home games and also on the road,” Randy Buschkoetter said of the support for UNK football. “As the team improves, the fandom is improving as well. I think they feed each other. The more support the team has, the better they will do.”
A UNK alumnus, Buschkoetter attends every home game – he used to be the public address announcer at Cope Stadium – and he’s a regular on the road, too. The Kearney City Council member and his wife Kim, also a UNK graduate, have only missed one game that their son Grant, a punter and holder for the Lopers, suited up for. That was for a friend’s wedding and Buschkoetter was the best man.
“I kind of had to go,” he said with a smile.
Buschkoetter has been to nearly every stadium in the MIAA – Northwest Missouri State was No. 11 of 12 – and he was in the stands on Aug. 30, 2012, when UNK lost 24-14 at Washburn during its first game as a member of the powerhouse Division II conference.
“It’s been great to see the growth and it’s great to see the team moving forward,” Buschkoetter said while enjoying the perfect fall weather with a parking lot full of Loper families, alumni and other fans.
— Marc Bauer (@CoachMarcBauer) October 30, 2021
Despite Saturday’s loss, the Lopers (7-2) remain in playoff contention and are currently ranked No. 25 in the AFCA Coaches Poll.
“It’s going in a great direction. Coach (Josh) Lynn has done a great job of getting guys to believe we can play and win in the MIAA, and that’s showing this year with their record,” said Tye Spies, a former UNK defensive lineman.
A three-time all-conference selection, Spies knows all about the challenges this program experienced after joining the MIAA. The team was led by three different head coaches during his time at UNK (2014-18) and posted a combined record of 12-43.
“You put your heart and soul into it to help build a program and you want to see it keep getting better,” he said.
That’s exactly what’s happened under Lynn, who took over in 2017. The Lopers went 7-5 in 2019 – their first winning season since leaving the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference – and beat Winona State in the Mineral Water Bowl. They were 2-0 during last year’s unofficial season.
Spies, who teaches industrial technology and coaches the high school football team at Loomis Public Schools, also believes that success has led to increased awareness and fan support.
“There’s a buzz around the community, and it’s great to see,” he said.
Spies traveled to Maryville to watch his alma mater and his younger brother Tell, the third sibling to play for the Lopers. Jake was an offensive lineman from 2011-15 and Tell is a current starter on the defensive line.
The entire program – players, coaches, alumni and fans – is like “one big family,” according to Spies.
Buschkoetter sees things the same way. Although this is his son’s final season, he plans to be there year after year to cheer on the next group of Lopers.
“If you’re not going to invest your passion in your hometown team, where are you going to put it?” he said. “That’s really kind of where we are. That’s my university. That’s my team. And I love following them around.”