HAYS — The Pittsburg State football team appeared to be on its way to upsetting undefeated Fort Hays State on Saturday, holding a 17-point lead in the first half, but the Tigers took control of the contest late in the second quarter and held on to win 21-17 after a defensive stand in the red zone.
Down by four with two minutes remaining in the contest, the Gorillas took over on their own 19-yard line and quickly drove the ball into the red zone with 15 seconds remaining in the contest.
PSU quarterback John Roderique threw to the end zone four times, but the Tigers’ defense broke up every pass to earn the win.
The Gorillas grinded out a 13-play, 80-yard scoring drive in the early going to take a 7-0 lead.
The drive was kept alive with four third-down conversions and was capped off with a 32-yard touchdown pass from Roderique to Austin Panko.
Pitt State went on to extend the lead to 17-0 on the strength of a pair of interceptions.
Simanu’a Thomas gave the Gorillas their second touchdown of the game, scoring on a 22-yard pick-six.
Keeyon Incle came up with another interception in the following drive, which led to a 47-yard field goal converted by Jared Vincent in the opening minutes of the second quarter.
Fort Hays was forced to punt following the field goal, but a fumble recovered by Tanner Hoekman on the fifth play of the Gorillas’ drive gave the Tigers the ball on the PSU 47-yard line.
The Tigers capitalized on the turnover, as Kenneth Iheme cut the deficit to 17-7 with a touchdown run on the first play of the extra possession.
FHSU forced a punt in the following possession, but a quality kick pinned the Tigers down on their own one-yard line with two minutes left before halftime.
Fort Hays was led by redshirt-freshman quarterback Jacoby Williams, following an injury to the starter Jacob Mezera, and appeared to be playing it safe before halftime, but a 70-yard touchdown pass decreased the deficit 17-14 just before the break.
Pitt State’s defense came out with a much-needed three-and-out to begin the second half, giving its offense the ball on the PSU 35-yard line.
The Tigers got the ball back on their own 20-yard line after forcing Pitt State to punt and drove the ball into the red zone in 10 plays, but missed a 35-yard field which would have tied the game.
Pitt State followed it up with a similar drive, as the Gorillas drove the ball to the FHSU 15-yard line and missed a 25-yard field goal attempt.
Fort Hays took over on its own 20-yard line after the miss and took the ball down to the PSU 16-yard line in the first two plays of the drive, before scoring on a two-yard touchdown run by Iheme to take the lead at 21-17 in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter.
The Tigers held Pittsburg short of a first down in the next drive to get the ball back and drained four minutes off the clock, before punting it back to the Gorillas with two minutes remaining in the contest.
In the hurry-up offense with one timeout left, the Gorillas quickly moved down to the Tigers’ 18-yard line with 15 seconds remaining in the contest.
The drive was highlighted by a three-yard run from Michael Rose on fourth-and-two to keep the drive alive and included a 15-yard pass from Roderique to Brendon Franklin which put the Gorillas in the red zone.
Roderique threw four passes into the end zone, but they were all broken up by the Tigers’ defense.
Roderique threw for 139 yards on 12 completions, with one going for a touchdown.
Rose picked up 90 yards on 25 carries.
Marcus Brantley led Pitt State’s defense with nine tackles, eight being solo.
Thomas had tallied three tackles on defense in addition to his pick-six.
The Gorillas will host Missouri Western at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
— Jordan Buckamneer is the sports editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @jbuckamneer.