PSU looks to return to playoffs
| Michael Bauer sports editor |
It didn’t seem fair to the Gorillas.
A 35-21 loss to the Missouri Southern Lions on the final day of the regular season kicked PSU out of contention for the NCAA Division II playoffs for a second consecutive year despite a 9-2 regular season record and finishing the season ranked 19th in the AFCA coaches poll.
Emporia State, a team that PSU didn’t get to play, took advantage of the Gorilla loss and jumped ahead in the regional rankings to snatch a spot in the playoffs after going 9-1 in the regular season while PSU had to settle for the Mineral Water Bowl.
It didn’t matter that the Gorillas only other loss was to the eventual national champions, Northwest Missouri State Bearcats, and it didn’t matter that PSU had to play a daunting October schedule against Division I Abilene Christian, Central Missouri, NWMSU and Missouri Western State consecutively. It was also a tough ending for All-Americans John Brown, receiver, and Nate Dreiling, linebacker. The two players would see the playoffs only once in their years at PSU.
But if Pittsburg State had any trouble finding motivation in its final game, it didn’t show as the Gorillas scorched Southwest Minnesota State 90-28, breaking the record for the most points in the Mineral Water Bowl’s history.
“The nice thing was we still got to play a game after the loss to MSSU,” head coach Tim Beck said. “We were able to finish up on a positive note.”
With nine starters returning on offense and nine on defense and three on special teams, the Gorillas are in prime position to carry that momentum from last year’s bowl game to get back to the national playoffs this year.
PSU enters 2014 ranked second in the MIAA coaches and media preseason polls, right behind NWMSU.
The schedule won’t include Lincoln or Southwest Baptist, two teams that PSU easily beat. Since both schools have left the MIAA in football, the conference has introduced a conference-only schedule for all 12 teams, meaning PSU will face conference foes Washburn, Fort Hays State and Emporia State for the first time since 2011. The new round robin scheduling should quell most arguments over regional rankings.
“We have a bunch of players returning, and this will be a grueling season playing every team but we have a lot of players back,” Beck said. “We have guys who have been in the fire and know how to come from tough situations.”
The schedule shouldn’t be any tougher than what the Gorillas went through last year.
Pittsburg State will get a comfortable start to the season by facing Northeastern State for the third consecutive year.
The Gorillas will then play a Thursday night game all the way in St. Charles, Mo., against Lindenwood.
PSU travels to take on Washburn at Yager Stadium in Topeka. The last time PSU faced Washburn, the Gorillas were on their way to a national championship, beating the Ichabods in the playoffs, but Washburn isn’t as dangerous as it was in 2011.
Following that, PSU will entertain the Fort Hays State Tigers in the Jungle in a conference-televised contest. Since 2011, the Tigers have improved under head coach Chris Brown, coming off a 6-5 overall record.
PSU will face Missouri Western and ESU on consecutive weeks before going against the Bearcats in the annual Fall Classic in what will be the toughest stretch of the schedule.
It will also mark the first time since 2001 that PSU and NWMSU won’t play each other on a neutral site as the 12-year battle at Arrowhead Stadium has come to an end with the Gorillas traveling to Maryville, Mo., this year while hoping to end the two-year skid against the Bearcats.
“I loved playing at Arrowhead but it’s above our heads and we enjoyed it as it lasted,” senior safety Keeston Terry said.
Nebraska Kearney will get to make the six-hour trip to Pittsburg on Oct. 25. If the Gorillas want to avenge last year’s loss against rivals Missouri Southern in the Sonic Miners Bowl, then they’ll have to do it in Joplin, Mo., on Nov. 1 before facing Central Missouri and Central Oklahoma for the regular season finale.
Defense looks to succeed without Dreiling
| Michael Bauer sports editor |
Just like John Brown on offense, the Gorilla defense faces the impossible task of replacing Nate Dreiling. The former linebacker became the second position player in PSU history to earn All-America honors in all four seasons and is now the assistant coach at Humboldt High School, leaving the Gorillas with a void to fill on defense.
Fortunately for PSU, the Gorilla defense returns nine starters from last year’s unit, which finished third in the MIAA in total defense and second in scoring defense.
“We have a lot of experience coming back,” said safety Keeston Terry, senior from Blue Springs, Mo. “I know we lost Nate, but I think we have a few guys who can fill that role. I think we have the potential to be as good as we were last year.”
Terry finished the year with 64 total tackles, 35 of them solo and 29 assists.
Dreiling, who led the team in tackles with 109 total, may be gone but second-leading tackler Tyler Disney will be back at linebacker, after chalking up 101 tackles, 46 of them solo and 55 assists and 3.5 sacks. He also had two interceptions returned for 96 yards.
Joe Windscheffel is another linebacker that the Gorillas lose, but Eric Brantley, junior from Kansas City, Mo., will try to get some playing time.
The corner back position will feature Aries Herrion, senior from Tulsa, Okla., and Dino Teague, junior from Tulsa, Okla., returning. Herrion earned All-MIAA honors after recording 24 tackles with three interceptions and four pass break-ups.
Strong safeties Jason Peete, senior from Olathe, earned All-MIAA honors in 2013 and Scott Roderique, junior from Webb City, Mo., looks to improve with more experience.
Starting free safety Deron Washington, sophomore from Raymore, Mo., and Isaac Maselera, senior from Tulsa, Okla., will look to challenge for the starting job.
De’Vante Bausby, senior from Kansas City, Mo., is back at cornerback after earning All-MIAA honors in a season that included 33 tackles with three interceptions and nine pass breakups.
The defensive end spot might be at a question mark with the departure of Joe Uzzel, a first team All-MIAA honoree.
Pittsburg State’s defense was fourth Uzzel, a first team All-MIAA honoree.
Pittsburg State’s defense was fourth in the league in rush defense with 1,835 yards, while the unit was ranked second in the MIAA in pass defense with 2,226 yards and 15 touchdowns. They were also second in pass defense efficiency at 110.1 but were seventh in the conference in interceptions with 12, one of them being for a touchdown.
In sacks, the Gorillas were tied for third with Nebraska Kearney at 24 total for 168 yards, behind Northwest Missouri State and Washburn.
Pittsburg State was fourth in opponent first downs and third on opponent third-down conversions with 62 while finishing third on opponent fourth-down conversions.
The MIAA may have proved to be among the best conference in Division II with Northwest Missouri State and PSU winning the title in the last five years with solid defensive performances. But the conference is also a battlefield of powerful offenses, including Missouri Southern State’s triple option attack that was second in the nation in rushing yards. The Gorillas will look to their nine returning starters for an advantage.
“Every week will be a challenge,” said Terry. “The good thing is that we have a lot of players who are good enough to face everyone.”