PITTSBURG — The Pittsburg State football team handed No.1 Northwest Missouri its first loss in the regular season since 2014 with a 20-10 win on Saturday inside Carnie Smith Stadium.
Defense was the name of the game for the Gorillas, as they forced six turnovers and put the offense in excellent position throughout the contest.
“I can’t say enough about how well our defense played today,” PSU head coach Tim Beck said. “Our defense was lights out all day long and came up with some huge turnovers. Plus, the fact that we didn’t turn the ball over much on offense was a big deal as well.”
The Bearcats picked up on their own 16-yard line to begin the contest and drove into the red zone in 13 plays, moving into PSU territory on a 34-yard pass from Zach Martin to Shawn Bane and then down to the 16 on a seven-yard run by Brody McMahon.
Pitt State’s defense held strong on third-and-three to force a field goal, but the kick sailed wide right, giving the Gorillas the ball on their own 20-yard line.
The Gorillas began their new drive with under 10 minutes remaining in the first quarter, but a stop on third down forced them into the punt formation.
Punter Tucker Horak faked the punt and completed a pass to Creighton Sanders, who was ruled down one yard short of the marker, which gave the Bearcats possession on their own 35-yard line.
Northwest capitalized on the field position, going up 7-0 on a 24-yard touchdown pass from Martin to Shane Williams at the six-minute mark of the first quarter.
The Gorillas gained momentum in the second quarter, as Michael Rose broke off a 13-yard run on the first play of the drive after the touchdown.
Keynan Scheurich followed up the first down with a 15-yard run to move the Gorillas down to the Northwest 20-yard line.
Pitt State then capped off the drive with a 20-yard pass from Thomas LePage to Austin Panko which tied the game at 7-all with two minutes into the first half.
The Gorillas kept the momentum going, as Josh Hornback intercepted a pass and picked up 12 yards before being brought down on the Northwestern 38-yard line.
Northwestern held Pitt State short on third down after the turning the ball over, but the Gorillas rolled the dice on fourth down and scored on a 32-yard touchdown pass from LePage to Lorenzo West to give them a 14-7 lead with 10 minutes remaining in the first half.
The PSU defense held the Bearcats to a three-and-out on the next drive, giving the offense the ball on the Northwest 32-yard line after a penalty on the punt.
A sack by the Bearcats’ defense on the first play put the ball near midfield, but a pass interference call on the next play put the Gorillas just outside the red zone with a fresh set of downs.
The Gorillas couldn’t put the ball into the end zone, but came away with three points after Jared Vincent split the uprights from 33 yards out to push the lead to 17-7.
The Bearcats were threatening to score after receiving the kickoff, as they moved down into the red zone on a 12-yard pass from Martin to Bane, but an interception by Hornback gave the Gorillas the ball on their own six-yard line with under three minutes remaining before halftime.
Northwest would force Pitt State to punt the ball five plays later, but a missed field goal from 44 yards out ended the half.
The Bearcats went on to force the Gorillas into a three-and-out to begin the second half, before converting a 40-yard field goal to narrow the deficit to 17-10.
A wild conclusion to the third quarter saw the Bearcats turn the ball over twice and the Gorillas turn the ball over once, before Vincent increased the Gorilla’s lead to 10 on the strength of a 22-yard field goal in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter.
Earlier in the scoring drive, Vincent lined up for a 40-yard field-goal attempt on fourth-and-four, but picked up the first down on the ground after Panko caught the snap and flipped the ball between his legs to Vincent.
The PSU defense went on to seal the win, as Davis intercepted his second pass of the day and later recovered a fumble forced by Sanders.
Davis led the Gorillas’ defense with two interceptions, a fumble recovery and one tackle.
Ethan Fugitt and Marcus Brantley led the team in tackles with six apiece.
The PSU offense was led by LePage, who tallied 102 passing yards and two touchdowns.
Panko and West each had a touchdown with 49 and 32 receiving yards respectively.
Pitt State will hit the road to take on Nebraska-Kearney 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.