Welcome to the BIG TIME Pittsburg
By Brian Pommier
Posted: December 9, 2011 - 10:30 PM
Saturday’s matchup with the Delta State Statesmen isn’t your run-of-the-mill contest. This one brings the big lights of ESPN, a Carnie Smith Stadium that is sure to be sold out and – most importantly – a chance to advance to the NCAA Division II championship game.
If you can’t get excited about this, you need help. PSU head coach Tim Beck said that isn’t a problem with his football team.
“Everybody understands what we’re playing for and the opportunity we have,” Beck said. “We aren’t having to yell to get them ready to go. They’re pretty excited.”
The Gorillas (11-1 overall, 8-1 MIAA) got to this point after a pair of come-from-behind wins over MIAA foes Washburn and Northwest Missouri State. PSU trailed 9-0 to the Ichabods before avenging a loss three weeks earlier. Then, in a rematch of one of the most exciting games of the year, PSU came back from a 10-0 deficit to tie Northwest at halftime. Then, the Gorillas found lightning in a bottle in the form of a Zac Dickey to John Brown passing attack that connected for three second-half touchdowns.
The duo has combined 12 times for 293 yards and three scores in PSU’s two playoff wins.
“When we line up, I already know he’s getting open,” Dickey said of Brown. “If they show us a certain kind of coverage, you can play it out in your mind before you take the snap ... maybe I can compare it to some crazy ride at Disneyland when you see him streaming open and you know that you can get the ball to him. It’s a great feeling.”
Meanwhile, the Statesmen (11-2, 3-1 Gulf South) put a 42-14 beatdown on North Alabama then held on for a 28-23 win over North Greenville to advance to Saturday’s semifinal game.
“We’re proud, at this point, to represent the GSC at the stage of the tournament,” Delta State head football coach Ron Roberts said to the Bolivar Commercial. “I know we have to put our best foot forward next week. Pitt State obviously has a tremendous program, and we’re real excited.”
Harlon Hill Award finalist Micah Davis directs the Statesmen from under center. Davis has completed 292 of 466 passes for 3,423 yards and 22 touchdowns with 17 interceptions. He also has rushed 96 times for 190 yards (2.0 ypc) and a team-leading 13 scores. Last week against No. 20 North Greenville, Davis completed 19 of 26 passes for 192 yards and rushed for a score in the Statesmen 28-23 victory.
Junior running back Brandon Lucas has carried the ball a team-leading 116 times for 659 yards and four touchdowns, while sophomore running back Richard Freelon has rushed the
ball 112 times for 650 yards and eight scores.
Freelon carried the ball 23 times for 130 yards and three touchdowns in the win against North Greenville.
“He had some awesome runs,” Roberts said. “He’s a powerful back, and he’s done that all year long. He’s a special player. We’ve always had one of those guys step up and take the load. Richard showed early that he had the hot hand. So, he’s the guy we kind of went with there in the second half and did a tremendous job. The offensive line also did a tremendous job.”
The Delta State offense is potent, but there are a couple of weaknesses that make this an intriguing matchup for the Gorillas. First of all, PSU’s defensive line – tough all year – kicked it into an extra gear for the playoffs, helping to shut down two volatile offenses in Washburn and Northwest. The Delta State offensive line – a large group that averages 6-foot, 4-inches and 309 pounds per man – has given up 19 sacks in 13 games.
Then, as good as Davis has been, the senior quarterback isn’t much of a running threat and is prone to mistakes as evidenced by his 22:17 touchdown-to-interception ratio. The Gorillas picked off four passes in the last two games, and the defense is allowing only an average of 184 yards through the air in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Dickey and Brown have been putting on a clinic. After playing to a 10-10 first-half tie against Northwest last week, Dickey hit Brown for touchdown strikes of 78 and 42 yards, then found him again for a 15-yard strike in the fourth quarter to ice the game.
Northwest coach Adam Dorrel gushed about the duo in the post-game press conference.
“When a football team has a talented quarterback making really good throws in this weather and an athlete making plays (like Brown), sometimes you have to tip your hat. “I wish (Brown) was a senior.”