KEARNEY, Neb. – After falling behind 7-0, the Pittsburg State Gorillas scored 27 unanswered points and cruised to a 37-14 road win against the Nebraska-Kearney Lopers to improve to 4-0 in the MIAA.
The Gorilla offense was balanced between quick-strike scores from the passing game, and time-consuming possessions fueled by the rushing attack.
All three Gorilla quarterbacks, sophomores Brandon Mlekus and Matt Harman, and redshirt freshman Mak Sexton threw a touchdown pass for the Gorillas. Despite Sexton’s roughest outing of the year, six of ten passing for 78 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions, the Gorillas had success throwing the ball accumulating 228 yards on 19 attempts between the three quarterbacks.
Mlekus lead the trifecta with 98 yards and a touchdown on three of six passing. Mlekus also rushed for a game-high 77 yards.
The Gorillas benefitted from a stout run defense that held the Lopers to just 137 yards on the ground. Kearney came into the game ranked third in Division II averaging 300.7 yards through three games, while the Gorillas rushed for 194 yards Saturday night.
The Pitt State defense also held Kearney to just 75 yards passing, and forced two interceptions including a 38-yard pick-six by junior safety Morgan Selemaea to ice the game in the fourth quarter.
The Gorillas started slow out of the gate. The first drive ended with Sexton’s first interception. The Lopers took advantage of the turnover and drove 51 yards for the first score of the game, a one-yard run by senior quarterback Alex McGinnis to give Kearney an early 7-0 lead.
The Lopers’ momentum was short-lived as the Gorillas scored the next 27 points.
After a 20-yard field goal by junior Jared Vincent on the ensuing drive cut the lead to four, a short punt and a penalty on Kearney set the Gorillas up at the Lopers’ 35.
On the next play, Harman connected with senior KiAnte Hardin on a 35-yard scoring strike to give Pitt a 10-7 lead.
As the defense imposed their will on Kearney’s rush-heavy offense, the Gorilla offense continued the onslaught.
Sexton connected with sophomore wide receiver Bryce Murphy on a 23-yard touchdown pass to put the Gorillas up 17-7.
Kearney tried to go to the air on their next drive, but Hardin picked a pass from redshirt freshman quarterback TJ Davis, giving the Gorillas the ball at midfield.
Mlekus hit senior wide receiver Lorenzo West on a 68-yard touchdown pass to push the lead to 24-7 West finished with a game-high 100 yards on four receptions.
After the Gorillas recorded their second blocked punt in as many weeks, Vincent added another field goal to give the Gorillas a 27-7 advantage.
The Lopers scored their final touchdown late in the half on a nine-yard run by fifth-year senior running back Luke Quinn to make the halftime score 27-14.
Pittsburg State’s defense held the Lopers scoreless in the second half.
The defense registered four sacks in the contest limiting the Lopers to 212 yards of total offense. Kearney hadn’t allowed a sack in their first three games.
Junior linebacker Kaden Roy led the defense with a career-high 11 tackles. Senior defensive end Ned Bingaman finished with six tackles and two sacks.
The Gorillas will return home to face the 0-4 Lincoln Blue Tigers in the Hall of Fame Game. Kickoff is set for 1pm Saturday, Oct. 5 at Carnie Smith Stadium.