After a lot of speculation about a football season during these unprecedent times, the Mid America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA) decided to cancel Fall Sports season but let schools play non-conference games following healthy and safety guidelines.
The first MIAA football action of the year was also Pittsburg State Gorilla’s first home game. The Gorillas played the Nebraska-Kearney Lopers at Carnie Smith Stadium, Oc. 31. The Lopers ended a 12-game drought against the Gorillas in a thriller that came down to Pittsburg State’s final drive.
Head Coach Brian Wright’s debut as a DII football head coach was spoiled as the Lopers walked away with the victory. It was a battle between two sophomore quarterbacks in the MIAA, with one dominating the air and the other controlling the game on the ground.
The Gorillas received the ball first and the opening drive ended on the Gorilla field as a 3&9. The Lopers received the ball back to drive their offense into field goal range and missed the attempt from the 35-yard line with nine minutes to go on the first quarter. After a few plays on the second Gorilla drive, quarterback Mak Sexton threw a lobby pass to Christian Carter who then left two defensive men on the ground and sprinted until the tackle on the two-yard line. Tyler Atkins ran the ball to the end zone to put the Gorillas in the lead.
After a long drive, the Lopers scored a 44-yard field goal and the first quarter ended with the Gorillas leading 7-3. The Lopers managed the second quarter very well, running the clock and scoring a four-yard QB run touchdown before halftime granting the lead to the Lopers, 10-7. Alone in the first half, the Lopers rushed their way to 207 yards, helping them dominate the time of possession and shorten the game for the Gorillas.
The Lopers scored a touchdown after the first few plays on the third quarter extending their lead, but Sexton answered back with a 72-yard touchdown pass to Dillon White. Gorillas were still trailing the Lopers 17-14.
The fourth quarter started with TJ Davis keeping the ball and rushing into the Gorillas endzone to give the Lopers a 10-point lead. With long passes the Gorillas were able to answer back with 11:50 on the clock. Saxton found Jaylen Martin to put the Gorillas four points behind Nebraska-Kearney with a missed field goal. With 6:30 left on the game clock the Gorillas were trailing the Lopers, 31-20 after a two-yard touchdown run.
Sexton had his best career game, but it wasn’t enough to compete against the Lopers rushing game. Sexton helped two wide receivers break the 100-yard mark and had three separate touchdown receivers, with White in the final seconds just missing the game-winner. On Saturday, he threw for 398 yards and three touchdowns.
Even with the Gorillas holding the Lopers offense in the second half, allowing only 80 rushing yards it wasn’t enough for a win. For pretty much the entire first half and more than 36 minutes in total on Saturday, the Lopers dominated the clock, controlling the tempo and requiring Pittsburg State to score quickly. Late in the fourth quarter, the Gorillas recovered a fumble, but fell just shy of what would have been a stunning recovery.
Carter scored the last touchdown of the game and his second against the Lopers stamping the score board, 31-26.