By Ryan Atkinson
Globe Sports Writer
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
The Pittsburg State Gorillas, already hearing rumors that their home opener was close to a sellout, saw a sweet sight when they walked out of their locker room and past the university’s ticket office on their way to practice on Thursday.
“There was still a line out to the door with people trying to buy tickets,” senior receiver Andrew Castaneda said. “Our fan base here is amazing. ... We’re all excited for this game.”
The Gorillas (1-0, 1-0 MIAA) host Central Oklahoma (0-1, 0-1) tonight at 7 at Carnie Smith Stadium.
The last time Pitt State played in front of its home fans was Dec. 10, when an overflow crowed provided an sizzling atmosphere during a frigid Gorilla win in the NCAA Division II national semifinals.
“We hope it’s the same crowd and it’s all the same people who were here then,” Pitt State coach Tim Beck said. “Because they knew how to get after it.”
The Gorillas did their part to set up a memorable home opener, defending their No. 1 national ranking with a 41-20 win at Northeastern State on Aug. 30.
“We’re all pretty amped up right now. Hopefully it’s rocking,” junior linebacker Joe Windscheffel said. “Last time we played here was that Delta State game and it was pretty sweet. Hopefully we can get some repeats of that this year.”
The Bronchos — 25-20 losers at home to Missouri Southern last week in their MIAA debut — are powered by running back Joshua Birmingham and quarterback Adrian Nelson, both juniors.
Birmingham rushed for 83 yards on 19 carries against MSSU but didn’t have a reception, marking their first time in his 23-game career that he failed to catch at least two passes in a game.
He had 50 catches for 334 yards last year while rushing for 944 yards and seven touchdowns.
“When you can throw the ball to a back like that and he’s got really good speed, he’s dangerous,” Beck said.
Nelson was 14-for-26 for 148 yards and a touchdown in his debut at quarterback for the Bronchos last week. The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder also rushed eight times for 24 yards.
“They’re dangerous. They can hurt you in a lot of different ways,” Windscheffel said. “Their quarterback is a big, athletic guy who can hurt you with his arm and his legs ... We’ll have to be on our best game.”
Pittsburg State quarterback Anthony Abenoja threw for a school-record 378 yards against NSU, but Beck insists this team isn’t necessarily going to be pass-happy.
“The defense will dictate what we do,” he said. “We’re running the same offense we did last year. Now, Zac Dickey wasn’t there to carry it 15 times ... but there might be times when (Abenoja) does that.”
As far as the Central Oklahoma defense, well Beck said he doesn’t know exactly what to expect.
The Bronchos had to defend MSSU’s new triple-option attack in Week 1, an offense vastly different than Pitt State’s.
“That’s the tough part for us. They had to defend the triple-option stuff last week, so that wasn’t great video for us,” Beck said. “Southern’s offense and ours don’t match very good. It wasn’t a great video for our offensive staff. ... For our offense it’s somewhat like a first game because we don’t know what we’ll see.”