The Nebraska Kearney Lopers outdistanced the Louisville Cardinals to claim the Helmet Bowl III National Championship.
Congratulations to the Lopers!
The Lopers, the only college football team named after antelopes, become the first DII Helmet Bowl Champions and the first non-DIII Champions of Helmet Bowl. They defeated the Cardinals by a percentage score of 67 to 33 percent to claim the trophy.
“The news this week that we were in the championship spread like wildfire,” said Tanner Drews, the Loper's Equipment Manager.
“The local news helped us out, then the alumni started hearing about it,” he said. “It's pretty cool when you come from small school like this and now live in California or the East Coast and hear about Nebraska Kearney. They jumped on board.
“I've got a lot of thank yous to hand out to everyone here in Kearney, too” he said. “It just goes to show that the support of your fans and community really does matter.”
Students at UNK returned for classes today and there was excitement on campus.
“They were coming in for the first day back and they were amazed!” Tanner said.
In the end, the Lopers gathered about twice the votes during championship week than the Helmet Bowl II Champion Dickinson Red Devils, but about half as many as the Helmet Bowl I Champion Gallaudet Bison.
Louisville GA Equipment Manager Joe Mikesic said he had a blast in Helmet Bowl.
“It was a lot of fun getting to represent Louisville and see us go that far. The contest is a lot of fun and I think it gives smaller schools like UNK a way to get their name out there,” he said.
“Don’t be surprised, though, if you see us in the finals again next year!”
HB 3 Trophy
The Helmet Bowl III National Championship trophy is presented by Schutt Sports, a leading manufacturer of football helmets in North America. Schutt also provided the Helmet Bowl II trophy and the HB2 and HB3 Conference Championship trophy helmets as well.
Visitors to the American Football Coaches Association convention in Nashville can view the trophy at the Helmet Tracker booth, #523.
Loper's Route to Win
First, the Lopers defeated the Northeastern State RiverHawks in the Mid-America Intercollegiate semi-final. Then, they surprised the conference by beating the Central Missouri Mules – but just by two votes.
The Lopers were on no-one's radar. They barely squeezed into the National Championship bracket of 64, being seeded as #11 in the West.
When they beat the DI Wyoming Cowboys helmet (#6 Seed) it was a nice win for a little school on the prairie. The Dakota Wesleyan Tigers put up a fairly bland helmet and were dismissed. We knew what was next – the fan-favorite UT Permian Basin Falcons.
This was Round 3, when teams start to get serious about making a deep run in Helmet Bowl. The Falcons had been here before and had a great image this year. But the Lopers beat them by more than 100 votes. and were gaining traction.
Hmmm. Who were these guys? The Loper's voting numbers were healthy, but not spectacular. They next faced the Kansas State Wildcats for the West Regional title. K-State seemed poised to finally break into the Fabulous Four and exchanged the lead with the Lopers nearly daily. In the end, the Lopers gathered 7 more votes than the Wildcats and advanced.
Next, most thought, was the end of the road. The HB1 National Champion Gallaudet Bison awaited and after having been beat early in HB2, and were eager to reclaim the top spot.
Gallaudet scratched back from an early deficit and took the lead late in the semi-final week. Once Nebraska Kearney heard of it, though, they would have nothing to do with losing. It was just a matter of hours, maybe even minutes, until the Lopers regained the lead. They would not relinquish.
Then, onto the Championship.
Tanner, the Loper's Equipment Manager, said he and AD Marc Bauer had some new strategies to try during the Helmet Bowl III National Championship week and they jumped out ahead of Louisville immediately.
“I am proud and thankful for the outpouring and support of the Loper community and our faithful fans,” said AD Marc Bauer. “It took a team effort to come out on top in the voting. It was our first time competing in the Helmet Bowl, and we look forward to being back next year.
“Helmets are cool! Go Lopers!”
The Lopers grew the lead daily until they had doubled up the Cardinals. Then, they brought in more votes. In the end, the Lopers gathered about twice the votes during championship week than the Helmet Bowl II champion Dickinson Red Devils, but not nearly as many as the Helmet Bowl I champion Gallaudet Bison.
What will Helmet Bowl IV have in store?