Cleo Chandler #20, a Redshirt Sophomore studying Accounting at Pittsburg State University (PSU) scores a touchdown during the PSU football game against the University of Central Oklahoma in Pittsburg, Ks Nov. 11. (Photo by Dawson Roth)
Jimm Alley – Reporter
The Gorilla defense forced seven turnovers and held the University of Central Oklahoma to just ten points to propel the Pitt State to a 20-10 victory, securing a spot in the NCAA Division II playoffs and a second straight MIAA conference championship.
After their first loss of the season against Missouri Western, the Gorillas were without starting quarterback Chad Dodson Jr. The Gorillas turned to redshirt freshman Ty Pennington to take over the starting role.
Both offenses started slow, exchanging punts, but a 28-yard punt return from sophomore Ryan Medeiros gave the Gorillas starting field position in the Bronchos redzone.
Pennington took advantage finding senior tight end Steele Roring for a five-yard touchdown pass. The Bronchos responded on their next drive. Junior quarterback Dawson Herl found a wide-open Jacob Delso for a 28-yard passing touchdown to end the first quarter with a 7-7 tie with 1:22 left in the first quarter.
Pitt State was forced to punt on its next drive, but a muffed catch from the Broncho’s return man gave the Gorillas the ball back in the redzone and their first of seven forced turnovers on the day. The offense would fail to find the endzone, settling instead for a 37-yard field goal from freshman kicker Austin Schmitt for a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter.
The Brochos’ next drive was cut short by an interception from senior cornerback Rico Payton. The ensuing Pitt State drive stalled, but the Gorillas were given a second chance when the Bronchos were flagged for running into the kicker. This led the way for a five-yard touchdown run by sophomore runningback Cleo Chandler Jr. to widen the Gorilla’s lead to 17-7 with 10:21 left in the half.
The UCO offense answered with a 40-yard field goal for a 17-10 score late in the second quarter. The defenses took over the game for the rest of the half as both teams struggled to gain any momentum.
The Pitt State offensive line struggled against a stout defensive front from UCO that sacked Pennington six times in the contest.
The Bronchos found themselves with another opportunity to score with time running out in the second quarter, but the Pitt State defense held them to another long field goal attempt. Payton once again made his presence felt as he blocked the kick and sent the game to halftime with Pitt State holding a 17-10 lead.
The Gorillas’ first drive of the second half ended in dissapointment as they were stopped on a fourth-and-goal at the UCO one-yard line. Defense would be the story for the second half as both teams continued to lack production on the offensive side.
The Pitt State defense secured the win for the Gorillas, forcing three straight turnovers including a turnover on downs and two forced fumbles.
After a missed field goal, a fourth Pitt State fumble recovery and a crucial first down catch from senior tight end Devon Garrison set up another field goal attempt for Schmitt, who knocked through a 42-yard field goal.
After the game, Garrison spoke about the difficulties the team faced on offense and how his catch provided a much-needed spark.
“I had a couple balls come my way that didn’t quite get the result I wanted,” Garrison said. “On that play, though there was nothing else happening other than me catching that ball, I was making sure I got that.”
Payton forced two of the Bronchos’ seven turnovers on the day and said having a big game like this to end the season helps the team’s confidence going into playoffs.
“I was really excited about it,” Payton said. “I feel like I already know what kind of player I am and I just look to build off of every performance and keep getting better. As long we keep holding ourselves to a high standard I know we’re gonna be alright.”
The defense held UCO to just 47 rushing yards and recovered four fumbles.
The Gorillas have won 21 of their last 22 conference games and will set their sights on the playoffs, hoping for a better result than last year’s second-round exit.
Head Coach Brian Wright admitted that his offense was not up to the standard they’ve set for most of the season, but he remains confident in his team’s ability to make noise in the postseason.
“It’s on all of us on the offensive side,” he said. “There were probably some play calls that I made that weren’t so good in a couple of situations to help them out, it’s a team game and we just gotta play better as a team on offense.”
Wright and the Gorillas will host the 9-1 University of Indianapolis Greyhounds in the first round Saturday. Kickoff is set for 1:00pm in Carnie Smith Stadium. Gorilla football can be heard on ESPN100.7 FM, or at ESPN1007.com. The game will also be live streamed on the MIAA Network.