Pittsburg head coach Tom Nickelson said the Pittsburg-Fort Scott game Friday night would boil down to the battle at the line of scrimmage.
In the second half, Fort Scott kept Pittsburg off the field over large portions of the game and the Tigers scored touchdowns on all four of their second-half possessions en route to a 41-20 win over Pittsburg at Hutchinson Field, snapping a seven-game winning streak for Pittsburg in the series.
“We didn’t own it (the line of scrimmage),” Nickelson said. “They did a very nice job. On offense, they were getting four and five yards a crack, which we said earlier we couldn’t allow because they’ll just chew up the game, kind of what we wanted to do. We had three offensive snaps in the first quarter. They just kept chewing, kept chewing and when they were on defense, they were able to send some linebackers that got us on some good first-down plays where we had second-and-long and they were able to pin us.
“We just weren’t getting the breaks tonight and we’ve got to go back to the drawing board. We’ve got to get better and our kids will. I’m proud of them for not quitting, so we’ll go back and get better.”
On the opening drive of the second half, Fort Scott marched 75 yards in 11 plays and 5 minutes, 10 seconds. Jacob Durossette gained 35 of the yards on four carries and senior quarterback Johnathan Stark put Fort Scott ahead on a 1-yard touchdown run. On what seemed like a bigger play at the moment, Jonathan Allen missed the extra point, as it deflected off the left upright.
On its next drive, 80 yards in seven plays, Fort Scott found avenues in the passing game after establishing its run and opened up its offense for 50 passing yards on this drive, culminated by a 36-yard TD pass from Stark to fellow senior Straton Hunziker 7 seconds into the fourth quarter. Stark and Hunziker connected for the game-winning TD pass in double overtime of the Tigers’ 35-32 win over Columbus last week.
Fort Scott went ahead 34-14 on a Victor Hughes 3-yard run and conversion pass from Stark to Hunziker with 3:28 remaining in the contest.
Pittsburg benefited from a good return by Kaleb Owens on a pooch kick, plus a 15-yard personal foul penalty tacked on after two Fort Scott players added a little extra on the Pittsburg sideline. With starting field position at the Fort Scott 45, Pittsburg would score on an Alex Barnes 4-yard TD run and the score was 34-20 with 1:54 left.
Mostly content to swallow up four yards and precious time on several run plays, Fort Scott quarterback Stark provided an exclamation point under a minute left in the game, a 48-yard touchdown run with 34.2 ticks remaining.
Page 2 of 2 - Earlier on, Pittsburg and Fort Scott played a scoreless first quarter.
Pittsburg ran only three offensive plays in the first quarter, as Fort Scott took over possession at its own 12 with 10:05 on the clock and held on for 20 plays and 71 yards until Pittsburg denied Fort Scott on a fourth-and-6 at the Pittsburg 17. Sophomore defensive lineman Sage Mahnken almost intercepted a hurried Stark pass over the middle and Pittsburg took over possession late in the first (32.8 seconds).
Both teams exchanged punts in the first half of the second quarter.
Then, in the second quarter, over a matter of 4:03, both teams combined for their 28 first-half points.
As fullback Anthony McNeely wrestled for yards amidst a gang of Fort Scott tacklers deep in Fort Scott territory, the ball came loose and the fittingly-named Race Kastl scooped, raced and scored on a 85-yard fumble return for touchdown. This was at the 5:22 mark of the second.
Pittsburg tied it up on a 64-yard scoring drive, ended by a 2-yard rumble by senior quarterback Spencer Bernhardt.
On the ensuing kickoff, Jash Pytlowany fumbled, recovered his own fumble, found daylight, broke free and outran Pittsburg kicker Nick Powers for a 96-yard kickoff return for touchdown.
Pittsburg answered right back (again) with a 34-yard TD pass from Bernhardt to fellow senior Zack Woods at the 1:19 mark.
“I was very proud of the kids for that (response),” Nickelson said. “It would have been real easy to tuck their tails and just give up and think this wasn’t our night. I was real proud of the boys for responding to both those back-breakers. They came right back down and responded. Going into halftime, we told them . . . there wasn’t any yelling . . . we were proud of the kids. We just needed to clean up mistakes and unfortunately, we didn’t get that done. Fort Scott made some very big plays.”
Woods enjoyed an outstanding individual night for Pittsburg, catching five passes for 130 yards and one TD (Pittsburg’s first passing TD of the season). All five catches went for either a first down or a touchdown, as Woods averaged 26 yards per catch.
“Zack’s had a great offseason for us,” Nickelson said. “He’s a big, fast, strong receiver, uses his hands well, uses his body well. He’s a nice weapon to have and he gave us a nice game tonight.”
Barnes rushed for 91 yards on 17 carries, 63 yards coming in the first half.
Fort Scott (3-0) outgained Pittsburg in rushing yards 273-160 and the Tigers gained 186 yards on the ground after halftime. Durossette led Fort Scott with 89 for the game, Stark added 87 and Hughes 50. Pittsburg held Marques Floyd to 21 yards on eight carries.
Pittsburg (2-1) now will have to win out in league play and rely on help from its league rivals to even hope for a share of the Southeast Kansas League title. The Purple Dragons head for Chanute next Friday night.