Classic offensive frustration Gorillas fall to Bearcats amid several setbacks in second half
| Michael Bauer sports editor |
It was a Fall Classic that lived up to its name, but it was not won in the way that most people thought.
While the No. 2 ranked Northwest Missouri State Bearcats delivered the Pittsburg State Gorillas’ first loss of the season, 24-15, in the 12th annual meeting at Arrowhead Stadium for the two teams, it was the defense for both sides that stole the show.
The game was played in front of 17,679 fans on a picturesque afternoon in Kansas City, Mo.
Bolles saves Bearcats
That came as a surprise for a game that was anticipated to be high-scoring, that also featured an unlikely hero for the Bearcats: backup quarterback Brady Bolles.
Northwest Missouri quarterback Trevor Adams may be the leader in passing efficiency in NCAA Division II, but Bolles was their key offensive element.
After injury to his shoulder late in the first quarter, Adams was lost for the rest of the game. Bolles went on to go eight of 16 for 114 yards. He had one passing touchdown while scoring two on the ground.
Tony has trouble
Pitt State quarterback Anthony Abenoja had one of his worst performances of the season, going 12 of 26 for only 196 yards and he threw two interceptions. He was sacked five times and suffered two safeties.
“Not a lot to talk about here for me,” said head coach Tim Beck. “The bottom line is, defensively we were bailed out several times. With offense, we could not get anything going.”
The Bearcats and Gorillas were both held to their lowest point-total all season.
“They stuffed us on the run several times,” Beck said. “Eventually they did a nice job with their blitz package. Once we got behind we were forced to throw … and just didn’t handle it very well.”
Brown’s bad day
Wide receiver John Brown was limited to only three catches for 17 yards.
Kansas City, Mo. may be the neutral site for the game but the Gorillas’ sophomore wide receiver Marquise Cushon seemed to feel right at home. The Kansas City native compiled 129 yards off of four receptions, along with one touchdown in the game.
“They have good defense, and they put pretty good pressure on me,” Abenoja said. “Marquise had a good game, so he’s a good help on the offense.”
Cushon took the opening kickoff to the 40-yard line, but the Gorillas were forced to go three-and-out.
The Bearcats were pinned down at their own nine-yard line and were unable to convert after an incomplete pass from quarterback Trevor Adams to Reuben Thomas, and an unsuccessful run by Billy Creason.
Gorillas dodge full blowout
The Gorillas took advantage of a punt from Northwest that went out of bounds at the Bearcat 48 to score two plays later off a 37-yard pass from quarterback Anthony Abenoja to Cushon.
Northwest Missouri had a golden opportunity to score six when Adams tried to connect with Thomas on a deep pass with no one in front of him, before the ball went right through his hands.
The Bearcats made three consecutive first downs as Adams made back-to-back runs, one of which he narrowly avoided a sack, and then completed a pass to get to the PSU 42.
Facing fourth down, Adams completed an eight-yard pass to wide receiver Clint Utter to convert and get to the PSU 26. The drive wouldn’t yield a touchdown or field goal, but Northwest Missouri still came away with points.
“We still gave up points,” linebacker Nate Dreilling said. “(If) They didn’t score at halftime, we win, so we didn’t play good enough. We just got to tackle better.”
After defensive end Heath Wilson brought down Adams for a ten-yard loss to end the first quarter, Northwest Missouri punted the ball to the PSU goal line at the start of the second quarter.
Adams didn’t return the rest of the game.
“Bolles didn’t change our game plan,” Beck said. “They were both so good going on, but other than that he throws the ball well enough that you still have to defend their offense.”
On the next play, linebacker Cody Matthewson brought down Abenoja in the end zone for two points with 14 minutes, 24 seconds remaining in the second.
Pitt State were pinned inside their own 10 yard line two more times. The second occasion ended in an interception by corner back Tyshaan Alleyne.
The Bearcats could not capitalize as back-up quarterback Brady Bolles replaced the injured Adams. Ben Trewyn missed a 34-yard field goal.
Gorilla rally falters
Abenoja threw his second interception of the half to linebacker D.J. Gnader and was brought down at the PSU nine.
This time, Bolles completed a nine-yard touchdown pass to Thomas and the Bearcats went ahead by one. It stayed that way, as a two-point conversion attempt was an incomplete pass.
Abenoja connected with Cushon on a 51-yard pass all the way to the red zone to wake up the Gorillas late in the first half.
A few plays later, running back Jeff Seybold Jr. scored on a one-yard touchdown run with 13 seconds remaining.
Abenoja completed a pass to a wide-open tight end Conner Combes for the two-point conversion after a fake hand off to Brown.
Still, Brown was clearly a target for most of the game and was unable to overcome the pressure before he was taken out of the game with an injury late in the fourth quarter.
“We … minimized Brown,” Northwest Missouri head coach Adam Dorell said. “We tried to keep the ball away from him and kept a very decent job. Our D-line played well from start to finish. I’m very proud of Brady Bolles. I thought he handled himself in an awesome way.”
Fourth down mixed results
Free safety Bryce Enyard opened the second half with a 46-yard run. Bolles completed a 42-yard pass to Thomas inside the red zone before Bolles took the ball in for an eight-yard run.
Cushon responded with a kick-off return of 41-yards to midfield.
Northwest Missouri put together a 12-play, 68-yard drive that ended with the Bearcats going for it on fourth and 10 on the 27 where cornerback De’Vante Bausby picking off Bolles’ pass in the end zone.
Punter Griffon Knopp’s punt went out of bounds and gave the Bearcats excellent field position at the PSU 23. Northwest thanked the Gorillas for it by scoring on an eight-yard carry by Bolles. It was the second time the Bearcats were in front.
Second half stymie
Things went from bad to worse for Pitt State. A low punt snap to Knopp was blocked by Matthewson with 1:02 in the third and recovered at the PSU 31-yard line.
Trewyn’s 45-yard field goal bounced a few yards short of the goal post to start the fourth quarter and the Gorillas still were in striking position.
However, PSU could not get anything going and the Gorillas looked done for after a muffed punt return by Brown was recovered by the Bearcats on the Pitt State 12.
But time wasn’t out just yet. On the ensuing play, the Bearcats coughed up possession and the Gorillas recovered.
Facing fourth and five at midfield with 4 minutes, 30 seconds left, Abenoja was sacked for the fourth time.
PSU got the ball back later, but were once again deep in their own territory.
With 1 minute, 59 seconds left and the ball on their own four, Abenoja was surrounded in the end zone and the Bearcats got a safety to end the Gorillas’ comeback chances.
Off to St. Jo., wounded
The Bearcats improved to 7-0 while the Gorillas are now 6-1 and are sure to lose their seventh place ranking in the national polls.
Nothing will get easier for the Gorillas when they face their next opponent in St. Joseph, Mo.: Missouri Western’s Griffons.
“Last year, we allowed this game to carry over next week. We can’t allow that to happen. Bottom line is, we have to win the rest of our games,” Beck said. “If we slip up after this, there is no guarantee. We have to find a way to put something together and beat Missouri Western.”