Home / Sports / Fumbles nearly cost Gorillas in season-opener
T.J. Roberts, right, runs with the ball during the 2019 football season opener between the University of Central Oklahoma Bronchos and Pittsburg State University Gorillas at Wantland Stadium on Thursday, Sept. 5. Gorillas took the win against Bronchos 37-35. Tanner Laws & The Vista

Fumbles nearly cost Gorillas in season-opener

Jared Vincent kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired to close out a Jekyll and Hyde performance that saw the Gorillas blow a 34-7 halftime lead and narrowly escape Edmond, Okla. with a 37-35 win to start the 2019 season. 

The first half was everything Gorilla fans could hope for after offensive coordinator Dave Wiemers made the philosophical shift to a run-heavy option attack during the offseason. Pitt dominated time of possession and offensive yardage as the Gorilla offense, led by sophomore quarterback Brandon Mlekus ground out 291 yards and held the ball for nearly 20 minutes.  

However, turnovers would plague the Gorillas in the second half as they turned the ball over four times resulting in 28 answered points for UCO, erasing a 27-point halftime lead.  

The Gorillas got out of the gates quickly with an opening 100-yard kick return by senior wideout, Lorenzo West to stake Pitt to an early 7-0 lead. Central Oklahoma responded with a 7-play, 78-yard scoring drive that ended with a 5-yard run by Junior quarterback Will Collins to tie the game at 7.  

After starting their ensuing drive at their own ten yard-line, the gorillas drove 60 yards in ten plays before settling for a 47-yard field goal by Vincent to give Pitt a 10-7 lead with 6:09 left in the first quarter. 

On the next UCO possession, the Gorilla defense made their presence felt as senior defensive end Cole Morris sacked Collins on a third-and-eight at the Bronchos 27 yard-line, forcing a punt.  

On the ensuing possession, Mlekus ran the option to perfection as he led the Gorillas on a 9-play, 55-yard scoring drive that consisted entirely of running plays. Junior transfer running back Wilbur Cooper Jr. plunged in from one yard out to give the Gorillas a 17-7 lead with 13:18 to go in the half.  

Despite two penalties that gave UCO a first down, junior cornerback Will Bazzle picked off Collins at the Gorilla 34 and returned it ten yards. 

After the turnover, the Gorillas continued to punish the UCO defense with a 6-play, 53-yard drive ending in a one-yard touchdown run by junior running back Tucker Horak to push the lead to 24-7 with 9:43 left in the half. 

After giving up a 30-yard pass from Collins to junior running back TJ Roberts, The Gorilla defense stiffened stopping the Bronchos on a fourth-and-three at the PSU 38 yard line.  

After the turnover on downs, Mlekus went back to work guiding the Gorillas on an eight-play, 62-yard drive that was kept alive by a 31-yard completion to West on a third-and-15 at the PSU 33. Five plays later, Junior running back Tyler Adkins finished the drive with a 26-yard touchdown run to give Pitt a 31-7  lead with 1:49 left in the half. 

After running four plays, and burning just 49 seconds off the clock, the Bronchos were forced to punt. 

Redshirt freshman quarterback Mak Sexton led the Gorillas on a 10-play 58-yard drive that stalled at the UCO goal line, and Vincent made his second of three field goals on the day, and 18-yarder to give Pitt a seemingly comfortable 34-7 halftime lead.   

The second half started well for the Gorillas as the defense forced a punt after senior defensive end Elijah Jeffcoat sacked Collins for a loss of 5 on first and ten from the UCO 38.  

Then the wheels came off the wagon for the Gorilla offense as Mlekus committed the first of four second-half fumbles giving the Bronchos possession at midfield. 

The Gorilla defense answered the bell, stopping UCO on a fourth and 1at the Pitt 15.  

The offense was unable to get in gear and went three-and-out on their next possession. After a 43-yard punt by junior Morgan Selemaea, UCO took over at their own 37. 

Collins responded by leading the Bronchos on a six-play, 63-yard scoring drive that was capped by a 30-yard pass to junior wide receiver Josh Moore to cut the lead to 34-14. 

A fumble by Adkins on the Gorillas next drive gave Central the ball at their own 39. The Bronchos scored nine plays later on a 30-yard run by Roberts to make it a two-score game 34-21 with 8:29 left to play. 

After six play, the Gorillas next drive was cut short by Mlekus’ second fumble of the day giving the Brochos the ball at the PSU 37. 

The Brochos cut the lead to six when Collins hit senior Dustin Basks on an 18-yd scoring strike to cut the lead to six. 34-28 with 4:11 to play.  

Two plays into the Gorillas next drive, disaster struck again as Cooper fumbled after being hit for a loss at the Pitt 20. Bronchos senior linebacker Dillon Hall scooped up the fumble and returned it to give UCO their first lead of the ball game. 

After the kickoff, the Gorillas took over at their own 37 with 3:14 remaining. Mak Sexton came back into the game and led the Gorilla offense in a pass-heavy two-minute drill for their only score of the second half. With the game on the line, Sexton completed five of seven passes for 60 yard setting up Vincent’s game-winner.     

The Gorillas will host Emporia State Saturday at 7pm at Carnie Smith Stadium. The Hornets are 1-0 after defeating Northeastern State 51-14 last week in Emporia.

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