PSU Gorillas 2012 season – What went wrong?
The bigger they are…
Trent Johnson | Sports Reporter
The Pittsburg State Gorilla football team concluded its season last Saturday in Joplin, Mo., with a victory against the Missouri Southern State Lions. The Gorillas finished
their season with a solid 7-3 record. Although 7-3 is a respectable record, especially when playing in arguably the toughest conference at the Division II level, many people had higher expectations when the season started. After the Gorillas hoisted the National Championship trophy in Florence, Ala., last year, many in Gorilla nation had their eyes set on a repeat performance.
“Our expectations were high,” said Gus Toca, senior defensive end. “We had a lot of leaders back and a group of seniors that would be able to lead this team. The expectations were very high.”
Through the first 346 minutes of the regular season, the Gorillas seemed likely to be representing the MIAA in Florence yet again, but, on a fourth-and-one in the Fall Classic, Mandel Dixon was stopped short of a first down deep in Northwest Missouri territory and the next 13 minutes, 28 seconds would set the tone for the rest of the season.
“I think it had a huge impact. It was a very emotional game for us,” Toca said. “Being in control the whole game and then losing it in that last quarter, it took a lot out of us. We weren’t able to recover for the next week.”
That next week being a 63-14 loss at home to MIAA champs, Missouri Western.
One theme that doomed the Gorillas down the stretch was their habit of giving up too many big plays on the defensive side of the football. Much of that could be attributed to the loss of many seniors on defense from last year.
“Losing three defensive tackles, Spencer Worthington, Luke Stringer, Paul Robinson, Elijah Olabode,” said Tim Beck, head coach. “We lost some quality players on the defensive side.”
The Gorillas allowed nine touchdowns of 29 yards or longer in their three losses, while they allowed only four such touchdowns in their seven wins.
“Guys weren’t in their gaps, guys weren’t playing assignment football. We were not being disciplined and were not being in our spots, doing our responsibilities,” Toca said.
Even though many had higher expectations than what was achieved this season, there is still plenty to be excited about when considering the future of Gorilla football. They will lose many seniors, but the key to having a great program is sustaining talent year in and year out.
“We’ve got a lot of good players coming back for next year. We had a fairly young team,” Beck said. “Offensively, we’ve obviously got a lot to build on, and in this conference it’s always important to have a quarterback who has been through it a year. Now that Anthony’s (Abenoja) been through that, it will springboard us for what we need to get done next year.”
Abenoja started all 10 games for the Gorillas this season as a sophomore and threw for over 2,300 yards with 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Abenoja will also return his main offensive weapon: first-team all-conference receiver/return man John Brown. There will be a lot to replace in the backfield, though, as the Gorillas lose their two leading rushers, Briceton Wilson and Jason Spradling. There is still experience in the backfield to fill the void of those two players.
“We feel like we’ve got some really talented young running backs along with Solomon Watkins,” said Beck. “Dre Holman is a young freshman who we feel is pretty talented and will get a chance to play next year.”
There is still much to look forward to with a bunch of talented players returning on both sides of the ball, but Beck knows that being a talented team doesn’t mean it is a successful one.
“Just because we got a lot of good players coming back doesn’t mean we’ll have a good team,” Beck said. “We’ve got to get back in the weight room, get back in the offseason and get after it. We need to build some mental and physical toughness.”
…the harder they fall
Val Vita | Managing Editor
When the Gorillas defeated Central Oklahoma in the first home game of the 2012 season, the stadium was crowded with people excited about being part of the university that won the national championship last year. Two months and three losses later, the community is coming to grips with the fact that the team won’t repeat as champions. In fact, PSU didn’t even get close to doing so.
In moments like these, people try to find reasons that could explain what happened. Some students believe there was lack of leadership, others blame it on the loss of last year’s quarterback, who graduated, and others, like Stephanie Battle, believe the title might have affected the team.
“They might have gotten too arrogant,” said Battle, sophomore in international business. “They took it to the head.”
Battle says she feels disappointed as a student.
“It kind of hurts the school spirit,” she said.
For Stephen Cuff, the main reason was that the Gorillas played against easier teams at the beginning of the season.
“That didn’t allow the coach to identify the shortcomings, the areas that the team needed to work on,” said Cuff, junior in geography. “We had an easy schedule to begin with, while last year was more spread out.”
Aaron Carroll says the team wasn’t as dynamic as it was last season because of the loss of one important player.
“Zac Dickey,” said Carroll, senior in automotive technology. “He was our main guy, and he was the great star last year.”
Keiva Robinson agrees.
“I think there was a lack of leadership because all the important seniors left,” said Robinson, senior in fashion merchandising.
Jaecy Hebrlee says PSU still has a great team, because they didn’t lose many starters from the season before. However, she believes a lot of little things went wrong.
“Running the ball when we should have been throwing, defensive line completely lacking the drive to get the ball back and the offensive line struggling to protect Abenoja,” said Hebrlee, junior in history. “I think Anthony Abenoja has the potential to be a great quarterback, but he needs a lot of work. The kid has a cannon for an arm, we all know that, but it takes more than the ability to throw a football great distances to be great quarterback.”
Hebrlee says Abenoja needs to read the opponents’ defenses better.
“I’m not blaming all the losses on him, but working more intensively with Anthony Abenoja would be a great start to a better outcome next season,” she said.
Not all students are so hard in their reasons for what went wrong with the team this season.
Melissa Archuleta, graduate student in management, says she doesn’t criticize the 2012 team because she knows how hard the Gorillas worked in the offseason and all summer long, preparing for a new season.
“I think it is a lot of pressure having the expectations of winning back-to-back national titles,” Archuleta said. “But in all reality, this year’s team is a new team. I believe they still have a strong leadership base and will use these losses as fuel for the fire. Next year they will be another new team.”
Archuleta says she believes it is crucial that PSU football fans remain loyal to the team, win or lose.
“The support and the roar from the stands can be such a significant factor to what motivates our guys,” she said.