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Morning Sun
  • Gorillas play must-win game in Miner's Bowl

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  • Saturday could be the last home game for 21 Pittsburg State football players, as the Gorillas (9-1) host Missouri Southern (6-3) in the Sonic Miner's Bowl, a 2 p.m. kickoff from Brandenburg Field/Carnie Smith Stadium. "We've got a group of 21 of them and we've got two underclassmen that are going to go ahead and be recognized with our seniors," Beck said. "What a tremendous group, obviously, we've got the leading tackler (Nate Dreiling) in Pitt State history, leading receiver (John Brown) in Pittsburg State history. It's just an overall good group that we're going to miss a lot. They've done a lot for this program and this group of seniors has been tremendous in the leadership department, so we've got a lot to thank them for and we've got a lot to play for." Players listed as seniors on the Pitt State roster with local ties include center Taylor Peak (Girard) and receiver Daniel Rank (Southeast). The underclassmen have been talking about playing for the seniors, extending their season. "We started off last week," Beck said. "Even talking about it last week. It's not the Saturday game, it's the whole week that's dedicated to them and making sure that we practice good on Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday in preparation for the game." Not only that, the Gorillas need a win to qualify for the playoffs, with Super Region 3 teams bunched together so tightly seemingly no team can afford a loss on the final weekend of the regular season. Pitt State, ranked sixth in the nation, currently sits in the No. 5 regional position — top six teams get in, No. 1 and No. 2 earn first-round byes, No. 3 and No. 4 host first-round games. "It's a game we have to win," Beck said. "Obviously, we've got to win it to have a chance to get in the playoffs and I think that there's no question because of proximity, it's become a rivalry game over the years. Other than that, there's a lot of teams you feel like you have a rivalry game with . . . this is a situation where if we win, we continue to play and if they win, they know it's their last game. So, there's a lot of things we have to be prepared for." Region 3 top seed Minnesota State (10-0) travels to Fayette for a game with Upper Iowa (6-4). No. 2 Northwest Missouri (10-0) travels to St. Joseph for their rivalry game against Missouri Western (8-2). No. 3 Henderson State (10-0) plays Ouachita Baptist (7-2) in the "Battle of the Ravine." Both schools hail from Arkadelphia, Ark. No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth (9-1) travels to Aberdeen, S.D. to take on Northern State (4-6). No. 6 Emporia State (8-1) closes out against Washburn (8-2) in the Turnpike Tussle. No. 7 St. Cloud State (9-1), formerly in the top 5 of the regional rankings, finishes up with Minnesota State-Moorhead (4-6). This season, perhaps more than any other in recent years, Dan Wilkes has been keeping us number crunchers in sync with records. Harlon Hill candidate John Brown keeps increasing his school career records for receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. With 69 yards on Saturday, Brown would move from eighth to fifth on the MIAA's top 10. Last week, Nate Dreiling established a new standard in career tackles and he's 14 stops away from the all-time MIAA standard of 489 set by Truman State's Marti Rave in the late-1970s. Dreiling leads the Gorillas this season with 93 tackles — Pitt State's leading tackler four seasons in a row. Jeff Seybold, the first Pitt State running back to go for 1,000 yards in a season since 2010 and the first to score 20 rushing TDs since 2007, needs 15 yards to break into the top 20 single-season rushing performances in school history. A 100-yard performance would move Seybold into 16th place. Seybold's 21 overall TDs this season tie him with four other players at 126 points — Richard Overton (1979), Monte Weathers (1987), Darren Dawson (1989) and Caleb Farabi (2007). Seybold could move into No. 5 on Saturday. Junior quarterback Anthony Abenoja needs two passing touchdowns on Saturday to eclipse the single-season mark of 24 set by Neal Philpot in 2004. Abenoja can also move up the school's charts in career passing yards, career passing TDs, career total offense and single-season total offense. "He's got to play smart," Beck said. "It's important that we don't turn the football over. In a game like this, they'll try and shorten the game. . . . Tony's our leader on the offensive side. He's had a really nice year up to this point and hopefully, he continues." The Missouri Southern offense gives opposing teams preparation nightmares in this era of spread. "There's no question, when you get ready to defend the triple-option and you haven't seen it since last year at this time, it's really tough to defend No. 1," Beck said. "It's hard to get ready for in 3-4 days. This is always a challenging week. "There's somewhat of a chess match that goes along with it. Because you try and figure out if you should maybe try to do the same things you did last year, maybe change up some things. Even though it's the same triple-option general philosophy, there's still a lot of differences in their offense that they've done since last year. . . . Bottom line is, you have to play assignment football. That's something we're not as accustomed to as we were a few years ago." Jay McDowell, Southern's quarterback and the equivalent of a point guard in basketball with an all-guard lineup, ranks second in rushing with 669 yards and seven TDs on 119 attempts, 41 more than his 78 passing attempts. "He's a really good player," Beck said. "When he decides to run with it, it's like another running back carrying the football and he does a really nice job of managing their offense." The Lions have averaged 368 yards on the ground per game, while opponents have averaged 123.6. Missouri Southern last defeated Pitt State in football in 1993.

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