Kearney, Neb. – The Pittsburg State Gorillas ran for 295 yards and four touchdowns, and forced eight punts, to beat Nebraska-Kearney, 35-13, Saturday afternoon at Ron & Carol Cope Stadium.
Pitt (6-4) wins a fourth straight game with UNK, on “Senior Day”, falling to 3-7. The option-based Gorillas are one of the MIAA’s hottest teams, evidenced by its 20-10 win over two-time defending national champion Northwest Missouri State last Saturday. Pitt tweaked some things on both sides of the ball midway through the season and now haven’t lost in a month.
“It was a tough day at the office. That is a good Pitt State team … all the credit goes to them. They play extremely hard and have a good defense. They shut us down but we also have to do a better job of executing and we have to go out and make plays” said UNK head coach Josh Lynn.
To reach its rushing yardage total, Pitt carried the ball 56 times (5.3 yards per carry) and tallied four touchdowns. Ten different Gorillas managed a tote with senior quarterback Thomas LePage (103) and senior back Michael Rose (93) combing for 196 yards. Next, true freshman back D’Vontae Brown (234 lbs.) scored from a yard and two yards out with Rose putting Pitt on the board with a nine-yard scamper late at the 5:19 mark of the first quarter.
In the air, LePage was 9 of 14 for 105 yards and one TD. He threw a 22-yard scoring strike to senior start receiver Austin Panko early in the third quarter that made the score 28-7.
Defensively, the Gorillas held UNK to 164 yards, forced three turnovers, had 10 tackles for loss and forced those eight punts. The Lopers punted the first four times it touched the ball and then a 46-yard drive ended when junior corner Juante Baldwin picked off sophomore QB Steve Worthing (Elkhorn South) the Pitt end zone.
“Credit goes to their defensive scheme. They gave us a bunch of multiple looks that we hadn’t see a lot of on film. They showed that some but not as much as they did today. It felt like it was every down,” said Lynn.
Kearney did trail by just a 14-7 score at the break thanks to an interception by redshirt freshman inside backer Ty Botsford (Sussex, Wisc.). He brought back his first collegiate pick 19 yards to the Gorilla 11-yard line with just under two minutes left in the half.
A 10-yard run by graduate transfer Darrien Daniels (St. Louis) followed and then Daniels scored from three yards out two plays later. The momentum was short lived, however, as Pitt forced Worthing to fumble on the opening drive of the second half. The Gorillas ran eight straight times with Brown’s second TD run capping the 49-yard drive.
UNK went three-and-out on its next possession but junior end Jacob Bartling (Elm Creek) recovered a Pitt fumble at midfield. The Lopers unfortunately returned the favor when junior corner Paul Davis picked off Worthing on the very next play.
“They are a good physical running team. Our defense kept us in it; they created a turnover and we scored off that,” said Lynn. “I thought that would give us a little burst. It did a bit but we came out and turned the ball over to start the second half. Then we’re literally playing catching up after they scored.”
Worthing finished 8 of 16 for 64 yard and was sacked twice. That left his rushing total at -4 yards; he did have UNK’s long run of the day (24 yards). Next, sophomore Alex McGinnis (Crete) played the final 19 minutes and went 4 of 9 for 54 yards. Running six times for a team-high 25 yards, he threw one-yard scoring pass to junior tight end Alex Harms (North Platte) early in the fourth quarter.
Overall, UNK ran 33 times for 46 yards with Daniels netting 24 yards on nine carries. Nine different Lopers caught a pass, led by junior receiver Marvin Marshall (Orlando, Fla.) with three for 31 yards.
In his final game at Cope Stadium, fifth-year senior safety George Brown (St. Louis) had a team-high nine tackles (five solo). Playing just in the first half, sophomore inside backer Sal Silvio (Kansas City) was all over the field and managed eight tackles (seven solo). That included three TFL’s. Among other seniors, corner Justin James (Charlotte) had seven stops and nose guard Sam Stoltenberg (Creighton Prep) had three.
For Pitt, junior safety Marcus Brantley had eight tackles (seven solo) and freshman safety Morgan Selemaea had five tackles (four solo). The pair combined for five of Pitt’s 10 TFL’s. UNK is at unbeaten Fort Hays State next Saturday. The sixth-ranked Tigers won at NW Missouri today, 13-12.