The Pittsburg State Gorillas scored 24 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to slam the door on an Emporia State comeback and give the Gorillas a 47-23 victory at Carnie Smith Stadium Saturday.
Both teams struggled on their opening drives with the Hornets missing on a 40-yard field goal attempt by sophomore kicker Clark Schoonover. The Gorillas’ first drive ended with a fumble by sophomore quarterback Brandon Mlekus setting up the Hornets at the Pitt State 30-yard line.
Three plays later, the Hornets found the end zone when redshirt sophomore quarterback Dalton Cowan connected with junior wideout JT Mackey for a 9-yard touchdown to give the Hornets a 7-0 lead with 3:14 left in the first quarter.
The Gorillas continued to struggle offensively. They went three-and-out on their next possession, and after forcing Emporia to punt, Pitt failed to convert on a fourth-and-one at the Emporia 32.
The Gorilla defense continued their stout first half performance and forced another punt. On the ensuing possession, the offense began to find a rhythm as Mlekus led a 9-play 42-yard drive that resulted in a 47-yard field goal by junior kicker Jared Vincent to cut the Hornet lead to 7-3.
The gorilla defense forced a punt on the Hornets’ next drive, and redshirt freshman quarterback Mak Sexton led the Gorillas on a 14-play 79-yard scoring drive. Sexton completed seven of his eight pass attempts on the drive, and after a pass interference penalty set the Gorillas up with a first-and-goal at the Emporia 1, junior running back Tucker Horak gave the Gorillas the 10-7 lead with a plunge into the end zone.
The defense answered the bell once again on the Hornets’ next possession as junior linebacker Kaden Roy stopped Cowan short on a fourth-and-one near mid field. Sexton returned and led Pitt on a 5-play 37-yard drive that ended with a 30-yard Vincent field goal. Sexton went 3 for 4 passing on the drive giving the Gorillas a 13-7 halftime lead.
After a couple of punts to begin the second half, the Gorillas tacked on a 24-yard field goal by Vincent that capped a 7-play 48-yard drive to make the score 16-7.
On the Hornets’ next possession senior cornerback Kiante Hardin recorded his first of two interceptions on the night and returned it 31 yards to the Emporia 4. Two plays later Horak carried it in from one yard out to push the lead to 23-7.
After a punt by each squad, the Hornets got a huge lift from junior running back Carlos Grace who busted free for a 71-yard touchdown. A two-point conversion pass cut the lead to one possession 23-15.
After a three and out by the Gorillas, Cowan led Emporia on an 8-play 86-yard drive and finished it with a 5-yard touchdown run. Cowan then tied the game with another two-point conversion.
As the crowd of 8,600 grew restless, Sexton came back in and led the Gorillas on a 6-play, 64-yard drive that saw Sexton connect with sophomore wideout Elijah Harris for 30 yards on a third-and-15 at the PSU 31, and 28 yards to Lorenzo West. Three plays later, junior running back Tyler Adkins carried it in from two yards out to put the Gorillas back on top 30-23.
After a missed field goal on the Hornet’s next drive, the Gorillas widened the gap with a 4-yard touchdown run by Adkins to cap an 8-play 80-yard drive highlighted by a 23-yard pass from Sexton to West to put the Gorillas in scoring position.
The defense ended any hope the Hornets had of a rally when junior safety Morgan Selemaea picked off Cowan and returned it 25 yards to the Emporia 23 setting up another Vincent field goal to push the lead to 40-23.
The knockout was delivered on the next possession when Hardin nabbed his second pick of the day and returned it 45 yards for the final touchdown of the night and an exclamation point on a stellar fourth quarter.
Sexton led the Gorillas with 190 yards on 16 of 20 passing. Adkins led the committee of Gorilla running backs with 51 yards on 10 carries and two touchdowns. Horak finished with two scores, but just 9 yards from scrimmage.
The Gorillas will host the winless Northeastern State University Riverhawks on Saturday for the Family Day game at Carnie Smith Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.