Pittsburg State’s stunning 35-17 victory over top-ranked Northwest Missouri State would have been satisfying for the Gorillas at Arrowhead Stadium, where the rivalry had been contested the previous 12 years.
It was even sweeter in front of a record crowd of 11,002 at Bearcat Stadium.
“To beat them here, it was amazing,” said Pitt State safety Deron Washington, a Raymore-Peculiar product whose 45-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the third quarter restored momentum to the Gorillas.
The outcome ended Northwest Missouri State’s 21-game winning streak that included last season’s NCAA Championship run and throws the MIAA race into a three-team deadlock with the Bearcats joining Pittsburg State and Central Oklahoma at 6-1.
The 17th-ranked Gorillas came out hot against the team that entered the game ranked first in Division II in total defense. Former Blue Valley quarterback Anthony Abenoja threw a 41-yard strike to Andre Sanders.
Pitt State then gambled and won, recovering a onside kick. The Gorillas were flagged for offside. But they were not deterred.
Upon building a 14-0 lead, the Gorillas went short on the kickoff, with Connor Frazell pooching to the second level, and into the sun.
Pitt State recovered and quickly made it 21-0.
The Gorillas lined up, pooched and recovered again, scored quickly and Abenoja’s third touchdown pass in the game’s first 20 minutes made it 28-0.
“We were doing whatever we need to do win the game,” Frazell said.
Northwest Missouri State coach Adam Dorrel wasn’t buying the eye blind.
“The sun deal, that’s an excuse,” Dorrel said. “We talked about where the sun was at with our guys. We’ve played here at this time of day before.”
The Bearcats dug in and scored the final 10 points of the first half and blocked a field goal to open the second half. Northwest doesn’t often find itself trailing — only once this season, 3-0 to Central Oklahoma — but perhaps the tide was turning.
“I thought we had gained some momentum back,” Dorrel said. “I felt good about our kids at halftime. We talked our plan, how we were going to come back in this football game.”
Then Washington saw a ball bouncing on the turf.
“I saw it, picked it up and ran as fast as I could,” Washington said.
Air went out of the sails on the home side, while the Pittsburg sideline bounced for joy. Both defenses were in control of the second half, and that meant no comeback for the Bearcats.
“We said coming in that if we were ahead we couldn’t get comfortable and if we were behind we couldn’t get frustrated,” Pitt State coach Tim Beck said. “And we said no scoreboard watching. Let’s not look at the scoreboard until the game’s over.”
Oh, the Gorillas peaked from time to time, and they’ll pay attention to the jump they’ll take in the national rankings this week as well. Of more importance are NCAA regional rankings. The first batch hasn’t been released. When they are later this month, keep an eye on the top six. That’s how many teams make the NCAA field.
After falling earlier this season to Fort Hays State at home, Pittsburg State is back in the conversation for postseason play and the MIAA title.