Gorillas survive Central Missouri scare
Michael Bauer | Sports Editor
It could have been really disastrous for Pittsburg State.
With a clear lead in the third quarter, 28-14, the Gorillas had a chance to put the game out of reach when their drive carried them inside the Central Missouri Mules’ five-yard line.
Then, running back Jeff Seybold Jr. fumbled the ball and Central Missouri recovered.
“Every play is so important,” said Tim Beck, head coach, to Eddie Lomshek of KKOW. “I know Jeff Seybold was down on himself after the fumble … but the bottom line is he saw the cut and was going to score … He took his eyes off the ball and it got tucked away.”
The Mules thanked Pitt State for the turnover by marching down the field for a 98-yard scoring drive to come within one touchdown.
Gorillas hold out
Time and defensive tenacity severed the Mules’ comeback momentum after Conner Frazell kicked a 28-yard field goal with 8:50 left in the fourth quarter to make the score 31-21.
The Mules’ quarterback, Hayden Hawk, was unable to narrow the gap any further before it was over.
This may have been a victory over a Central Missouri team that traditionally likes to give the Gorillas lots of gray hair, but several Gorillas say they were not satisfied with how this win came about.
“They’re not happy with the way it was won,” Beck said. “Defense played well in the first half with two interceptions. We got a kickoff coverage turnover but we just didn’t have enough points to show for it. We just weren’t as in sync as we should’ve been.”
Early-game ups, downs
Quarterback Anthony Abenoja went 20 of 30 for 290 yards and three touchdowns, but he threw one interception.
Wide receiver John Brown had 12 receptions for 199 yards and two touchdowns. Seybold finished the afternoon with 22 rushes for 90 yards.
Early in the game, the Gorillas hardly wasted any time trying to score as Abenoja rushed for a 15-yard touchdown with 12:28 left in the first quarter.
But the Mules responded with Hawk connecting with Tris McClelland for an eight-yard touchdown as that time expired.
Hawk finished the game going 24 of 43 for 362 yards.
Lloyd had eight catches for 176 yards while McClelland had five catches for 72 yards. Hawk was the leading rusher with 29 yards off of ten carries.
Later in the second quarter, Hawk put the Mules in front by completing a pass to Ronrei Lloyd for a 73-yard touchdown with 3:49 left before halftime.
Second half supremacy
This was only the second time this season that the Gorillas confronted a deficit, but the Gorillas erased it before the half was over.
Abenoja and the Gorillas orchestrated a six-play drive in 67 yards in just under three minutes. He found Brown for a five-yard touchdown.
Then, the Gorillas’ special teams unit won the ball back after Jamal Roye fumbled and safety Issac Maselara recovered. That left 57 seconds before halftime.
“We’re happy with how we played in the first half. We got moving a little bit,” Beck said. “We threw the ball a couple of times that helped them loosen up a bit. There were a couple of big catches.”
The Gorillas made Central Missouri pay for their turnover by hooking up with tight end Conner Combes for a one-yard touchdown to reclaim the lead, 21-14.
A 30-yard touchdown pass to Brown with 5:09 left in the third quarter doubled the Gorillas’ lead, 28-14.
After the Mules got the ball back, they fumbled again. That triggered a Pitt State five play, 69-yard drive that concluded with Seybold’s fumble.
“It’s always those technique things and fundamentals that you have to be sound with and if you can learn from those in a win, that’s great,” Beck said. “Sometimes, you have to lose a game before you get everybody’s attention but it’s a great way to hang in there and get the victory.”
Mules and gray hairs
Central Missouri may have entered the game with more losses on their resume than wins but Pitt State’s coaches knew going in that the Mules were a viable threat.
“This game made me nervous,” Beck said. “You can talk until you are blue in the face … Your team sees a team that’s 2-3 and they don’t think they are as good as they are, but Central’s got a nice football team.”
The Gorillas improved their record to 6-0 while the Mules are now 2-4.
The game overall was akin to the last PSU-UCM contest, where the Gorillas won, 30-21, at home, both in terms of points and the number and manner of times UCM threatened to take control.
The Gorillas’ next opponent will be against the undefeated and No.3 ranked Northwest Missouri Bearcats in the annual Fall Classic at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.