By Greg Grisolano
Posted: November 30, 2011 - 11:15 AM
If revenge truly is a dish best served cold, Pitt State couldn’t have asked for a better kitchen to cook up a 31-22 playoff victory against the Washburn Ichabods this past Saturday. Game time temperatures at “The Jungle” were a brisk 46 degrees, with steady drizzling rains and gusty winds, making the stadium feel more like “The Tundra.”
The Gorillas atoned for a humiliating 43-25 loss earlier this month, the lone blemish so far on a dream season. The defense was ferocious, harassing Washburn's Harlon Hill finalist Dane Simoneau into a 9-of-40 day passing, with two picks and a sack. They also turned back the Ichabods offense four times at the 1-yard line. Pitt's coaches made a commitment to get playmaking wideout John Brown involved early and often, opening up running and passing lanes for Zac Dickey. The outcome was what most people expected during the first meeting: a solid Gorilla victory.
Enter Northwest Missouri, fresh off an overtime thriller in which the Bearcats knocked off top-ranked Midwestern State. When Northwest comes to town for Saturday’s quarterfinal contest, it will be the Bearcats who are looking for vengeance after their stunning 38-35 loss to the Gorillas during this year’s Fall Classic. After winning 49 straight MIAA games, the Bearcats lost on a last-second Chase McCoy field goal at Arrowhead Stadium. Northwest also was upended later in the season by Missouri Western, but rectified that situation by toppling the Griffons in another playoff rematch.
This will be the fifth time Pitt and Northwest have squared off in a “win-or-go-home” contest. The series is tied 2-2. Pitt State has not beaten the Bearcats twice in the same season since 2004, the last time the Gorillas played in the title game. Northwest submarined the 2005 team’s title hopes in a 21-10 thrashing the last time the two teams met in a postseason game at Carnie Smith Stadium. Pitt rolled Northwest twice during the 1989 season, the final year of the Dennis Franchione era, and lost a heart-breaker 38-35 in Maryville during the 2008 playoffs.
My friend Mark Schremmer covers sports for the Topeka Capital-Journal, and we discussed this matchup. He said it’s hard to beat a good team twice. Northwest is undoubtedly a good team. They finished the regular season at the top of the MIAA in scoring (51.2 ppg), total offense (510.3 ypg) kickoff coverage, and third-down efficiency, and no worse than fourth in nearly every major statistical category (offense and defense), with the biggest exception being penalties (8th overall, 64.6 ypg).
And it’s not like Pitt won the first meeting going away this season. At halftime, the Gorillas were down 28-6 and Northwest’s offense looked capable of hanging up 80 points on a hapless Pitt team. But the Bearcats took their foot off the gas. The Gorillas stormed back in the second half, and ended up knocking off the then-No. 1 team in the nation, giving Pitt coach Tim Beck his signature win. If anything, the way the first matchup played out, both Beck and Northwest coach Adam Dorrel know that neither team played up to expectations. Both coaches will have their teams ready to get after it Saturday.
Pitt’s defense already has shown multiple times it can be the Kryptonite to supposedly superhuman offenses – and it owns the added benefit of knowing it has already shut down Northwest for one half at least (only seven points in the second half of the Fall Classic.) I expect its play to be the difference in what should be another playoff classic.
Greg Grisolano is an award-winning reporter and feature writer. He is also a proud alumnus of the Communication Department at Pittsburg State University. You can find on the TeamKong message boards under the handle “El-Grizo” or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can now follow him on Twitter @ElGrizo.