Critical fourth-quarter stops lift Gorillas
By BRIAN POMMIER
The Pittsburg State Gorillas must have a guardian angel hovering near the north end zone.
Almost 20 years ago, Jerry Boone made one of the most famous tackles in Gorilla history when he kept North Dakota State out of the end zone on a two-point conversion attempt that helped propel PSU to the NCAA Division II championship game in 1992.
And on Saturday, near the very same goal line, the Gorillas faced down another playoff foe.
And again, they came out on top.
With just more than six minutes left in Pitt State’s 31-22 second-round playoff victory Saturday at Carnie Smith Stadium, Washburn quarterback Dane Simoneau hit Tore Hurst for a 28-yard gain to the PSU 1.
First down: Simoneau takes the snap from under center and tries to slip into the end zone. He is met by Joe Windscheffel and Eric Brantley and stopped for no gain.
Second down: Washburn running back Justin Cooper – who was the MIAA’s second-leading rusher – smashes into the line for no gain after being dragged down by Paul Robinson.
Third down: Washburn decides to give Cooper another shot with a bread-and-butter play. This time, Cooper is grabbed from behind by Joe Uzzel and Jason Peete and spun down for a two-yard loss.
“They stacked up the middle,” Cooper said. “Their push was a little better than ours was. I think with a better push, we probably would’ve scored.”
Fourth down: This time, Simoneau drops back to pass, but is hurried into making a bad throw that receiver Matt Kobbeman can’t corral, and the small crowd of PSU faithful erupts in jubilation.
“We needed to get in there,” Simoneau said. “We had four chances to get two yards. We should be able to get that.
“It just didn’t happen.”
The goalline stand – coupled with a 97-yard touchdown drive on PSU’s ensuing drive – sealed the win for Pitt State and advanced them to the quarterfinals Saturday, when they will host another MIAA rival in the Northwest Missouri State Bearcats at 1 p.m.
“We just wanted to get penetration,” PSU defensive lineman Gus Toca said. “We decided to forget using our hands and just submarined the offensive line. We were able to get through a couple of gaps, and it just worked out for us.”
It was the second time in the fourth quarter that the Gorillas – leading by eight both times – were able to hold the volatile Washburn offense on fourth down.
Facing a third-and-seven from the PSU 20, Pitt State quarterback Zac Dickey threw deep down the middle for tight end Bristan Kelley. The ball sailed high, and Kelley had the ball bounce off of his fingertips and into the hands of Washburn’s Devon Connors, who returned it to the PSU 28.
Cooper lost a yard on first down, and then the Ichabods were called for illegal procedure, backing them up five more.
But Simoneau swung the ball out to Cooper, who ran for 12 yards on second-and-16 to the PSU 20, setting up a manageable third-and-four. Luke Stringer broke up a pass attempt to Kobbeman, and Washburn – trailing by eight – decided to go for it on fourth down.
Simoneau, however, faced more pressure from the Pitt State defensive line, and his throw fell harmlessly to the turf.
Just three weeks after Simoneau and Cooper gashed the Gorillas for 515 total yards, the PSU defense rose to the challenge, allowing just 22 rushing yards on 23 attempts and holding Simoneau to only 14-of-40 passing with two picks.
A lot of the credit has to go to the front seven, who were routinely in Washburn’s backfield on Saturday after failing to pressure Simoneau three weeks ago.
But don’t tell that to Toca.
“Our defensive backs did a great job of hiding their coverage so Simoneau couldn’t just catch the ball and get rid of it,” Toca said. “They did a good job keeping everything hidden from Dane, because he’s very smart. The credit all goes to them, we just got off the ball and did our job.”