By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Protecting a six-point lead in the fourth quarter, Pittsburg State knew exactly where it wanted the football.
In John Brown’s hands.
Brown broke a 27-yard run to set up a clinching touchdown with 2:33 remaining, and the Gorillas downed Missouri Southern 26-14 Saturday afternoon in the Sonic Miner’s Bowl before 6,378 fans at Fred G. Hughes Stadium.
The Gorillas (7-3, 7-3 MIAA) beat the Lions for the 19th consecutive year and finished in a tie for fourth place with Lindenwood in the conference standings. The Gorillas await word on a possible bowl game invitation, although Lindenwood beat PSU 44-33 last week in Pittsburg.
Missouri Southern (6-5, 5-5) finished exactly in the middle of the pack — eighth place. The Lions posted only their second winning season since 1997.
Lions senior running back Ne’Ronte Threatt rushed for 144 yards on 11 carries and scored both touchdowns. His three-yard TD early in the third period turned a 10-7 halftime deficit into a 14-10 lead.
The Gorillas answered with receiver Luke Rampy scoring on a 44-yard run around right end, and Connor Frazell’s 22-yard field goal gave PSU a 20-14 lead entering the fourth period.
Pittsburg State faced third down-and-5 from the MSSU 30 on its second series of the fourth quarter. Brown took the direct snap and went around right end for 27 yards before being pushed out of bounds at the 3.
“I was telling the defense this is the biggest play of the game and we have to make something happen,” said Lion linebacker Aaron Hall, who recorded a game-high 11 tackles. “They got us with the misdirection. It was a great call by their coach. We knew coming in if we were going to win, we’d have to stop (Brown). Hats off to John Brown. He’s a great player.”
“That was really a big play at the time,” Gorillas coach Tim Beck said. “There were some plays that we had saved to use at the goal line, but it gets to a point where let’s don’t leave anything back. We have to use everything we can get to go get the first down, and that was one of those plays.”
The drive almost ended there as Wilson fumbled on first down, but tackle Cody Holland, who prepped at Neosho, recovered for the Gorillas, and Spradling scored on a left toss play from the 1 on third down, capping a 12-play, 80-yard drive that consumed almost seven minutes.
“We had our chance,” Lions coach Daryl Daye said. “We couldn’t stop them at the end, and they put it on ice. Give them credit. When they had to, they came up with the big plays at the right time and executed. They ran the ball and ran the clock out.”
Brown, 5-foot-11, 171-pound junior receiver, also hurt the Lions earlier in the game. His 36-yard reception came three plays before he scored on an eight-yard sweep around left end with 3:34 left in the first quarter, and his 22-yard catch to the 8 set up Connor Frazzel’s 22-yard field goal for a 20-14 lead with 4:28 left in the third period. He finished with 66 yards on five rushes and 72 yards on three receptions.
“You notice I didn’t punt it to him. There is a reason,” Daye said. “He’s a dynamite player. Actually the Redskins had a guy on the sidelines, and I told him you better put him on your list because he’s one of the top players in the MIAA.”
After Brown’s TD, it took the Lions only 12 seconds to tie the game as Threatt went off the left side on a counter play, broke into the clear as he approached midfield and raced 75 yards for a touchdown — the Lions’ second-longest play of the season.
“You’re waiting on your blockers,” Threatt said. “I take my time and then just shoot up through the gap.”
Frazzel booted a 28-yard field goal late in the first half to give the Gorillas a 10-7 lead at the break. It came eight plays after linebacker Nate Dreiling forced an errant pitch by quarterback Kellen Cox, and Joe Windscheffel recovered at the Lion 45.
The Lions started fast in the second half as Cox’s 20-yard keeper around right end and Threatt’s 51-yard run moved the ball to the 3. Threatt scored on the next play for the Lions’ 32nd rushing touchdown this season, tying the school record set in 1995.
“It took us a little while to find out what they were doing,” Daye said. “We were able to make some good adjustments and come out in the second half and pop some big plays and get us back in the ball game. Defense kept us in the ball game about as long as they could.
“We had a couple of turnovers that hurt us, and we had some penalties at critical parts of our drive that cost us. They did what they had to do to win the ball game. You have to give them credit.”
“It’s a beautiful rivalry,” Hall said. “It’s great to see all the fans out on both sides. We knew we had a good shot coming in here ... we didn’t do quite enough but it was close.”