The first Lindenwood punt of the game proved to be the change in the momentum Pittsburg State was looking for as Kip Keeley pushed his way through the Lions’ offensive line to get a hand on the ball with Levi Copelin falling on it at the Lindenwood 2-yard line. Senior running back Jeff Seybold went over the top from one yard out for the touchdown, breaking the early tie and putting PSU up 21-14 on the way to a 56-28 rout of the Lions Saturday evening at Carnie Smith Stadium.
“It was huge. I was so excited when that happened,” Pitt State running back Michael Rose said. “I was running down the sideline ready to go. I think it just brought us all together. It was good for us to have a huge play like that for a big momentum swing.”
Following the game-changing turnover, Pitt State scored 28 unanswered points to finish the first half, dominating Lindenwood on both sides of the ball on the way to the win.
With the win, the No. 5-ranked Gorillas move to 2-0 on the young season.
The Pitt State offense amassed 429 yards of total offense in the home opener.
“We played well. One of our main focuses was converting third downs and having short third downs,” Pitt State quarterback John Roderique Jr. said. “I think we only punted two or three times. We did better than we did last week.”
John Roderique Jr. ran the ball 12 times for 84 net yards to lead the team, and added a 19-for-21 day through the air for an additional 204 yards, completing 90.5 percent of his throws. He had two rushing touchdowns and three passing scores in the win.
Showing the versatility of the Gorilla roster, PSU senior wide receiver Marquise Cushon was the second-leading rusher behind Roderique with 67 net yards on three carries, averaging 22.3 yards per touch. He caught a pair of passes for 27 yards.
“The thing about this offense is there are so many weapons,” Roderique said. “Anybody can bust loose for a big play at any time.”
Rose finished with three receptions for 53 yards and a touchdown, while Jeff Seybold Jr. added 41 yards on four catches with a receiving touchdown for Pitt State. Rose added eight rushes for 32 net yards and a score. Seybold had 16 yards on the ground.
Wide receiver Austin Panko had four catches for 40 yards for the Crimson and Gold.
For the defense, safeties Deron Washington and Devron Moore, linebackers Spencer Brown and Colby Hall led Pitt State in tackles with nine each. The Gorilla defense forced three interceptions to win the turnover battle.
“We love each other and we play for each other,” Pitt State defensive back Darnell Walker Jr. said. “The fact is, we’re unselfish … It’s great to see how individuals come together, play together and not be an individual.”
Walker had two pass break-ups, three tackles and tallied a pair of interceptions for 85 return yards in the Gorilla win.
Lindenwood scored on their first two drives of the game, but the PSU defense battened down the hatches at that point and didn’t allow the Lions to score another point for more than 30 minutes of game action while the offense built up the lead.
“Early on it was just a couple of missed assignments up front and in the secondary,” Hall said. “Lindenwood has a good offense. Credit to our defense. Our coaching staff did a great job of adjusting and we just played hard. That’s really all it came down to.”
The punt block by Keeley near the start of the second quarter wasn’t the only crucial special teams play for Pitt State.
With 1:53 left in the first half and the Lions facing a fourth and 16 from their own 30-yard line, Copelin blocked the second punt of the game for Pitt State, scooping it up himself from 16 yards out and taking the ball into the end zone to put the Gorillas up 35-14.
Pitt State essentially put the game out of reach with 16 seconds left in the half when Roderique hit a wide open Kyle Swartz for a 5-yard touchdown pass on first and goal to push the PSU lead to 42-14.
The first four possessions of the game saw each team put the ball across the goal line twice, with Lindenwood striking first on a 6-yard run by running back junior Calen Campbell.
The Gorillas matched with an eight-play, 75-yard drive culminating in a Roderique 26-yard scamper for a score.
On the Lions’ second possession, quarterback Jesse Scroggins hooked up with wide receiver Tre Roby for a 63-yard passing score on a post route only to see PSU tie it up once more.
On fourth and 2 from the LW 23, Roderique faked the hand off and rolled right to find a defender in his face. After cutting inside to evade the sack, he saw Rose release into the left flat. Rose caught the pass and turned up field for the 23-yard score, dragging Lindenwood defenders for the final five yards across the goal line to tie the game up at 14-14 with 14:47 left in the second quarter.
“I didn’t honestly think I was going to make it in,” Rose said. “I was getting held up and kept driving and somehow got in.”
Scroggins was 17 of 38 for 235 yards and a touchdown for the Lions.
Leading Lindenwood in receiving was Roby, who had five grabs for 86 yards.
DeSean Warren caught five passes for 76 yards, while Greg Coble added 74 yards on five catches.
The leading rusher for Lindenwood was Campbell at 10 carries for 70 yards.
Pitt State is at home next week with a matchup of the Washburn Ichabods, with kickoff scheduled for 7 p.m. at Carnie Smith Stadium.