By Ryan Atkinson
Globe Sports Writer
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
How long has it been since the Pittsburg State Gorillas have taken the field for a game?
“It’s seemed like a long time,” Pitt State coach Tim Beck said on Thursday.
Relatively speaking, it has.
The Gorillas are coming off a bye week and haven’t competed since Sept. 22. Add in four straight lopsided wins against teams with a combined record of 2-18 to start the season and it can be argued that Pitt State hasn’t faced real competition since the NCAA Division II National Championship game last December.
That all changes today.
The Gorillas — No. 1 in the nation according to the AFCA Division II poll — host the red-hot Central Missouri Mules at 2 p.m. at Carnie Smith Stadium.
“The bottom line is, this is a great football team in Central Missouri,” Beck said. “The last couple (games) we haven’t really been challenged much ... and now we’ve had a week off. Hopefully we’ve improved on some things that we needed to get better at. This is going to be a great MIAA matchup.”
Pitt State, averaging a 30.3-point margin of victory, practiced over the weekend of its bye week, hoping to keep their offensive timing sharp. Last season’s bye week was followed by the Gorillas’ only loss of the year — a 43-25 setback to Washburn.
“What comes to most people’s mind is last year when we took a bye week and Washburn came in here and gave it to us pretty good,” senior Pitt State running back Briceton Wilson said. “But I think we did all the little things right this time.
“I think we took advantage of it. It was a bye week but we worked just as hard as we would if we had a game.”
The Mules have won four straight since opening the season with a 38-26 loss to a Missouri Western that is now ranked No. 5 in the nation. UCM already has a win over then-No. 3 Northwest Missouri under its belt as well as wins over Lindenwood, Truman State and Missouri Southern — Lindenwood giving the Mules their biggest test in a 35-28 game.
UCM is averaging 34.8 points per game during its four-game winning streak. Quarterback Colter Smith — a 6-foot-5, 240-pound senior — ranks third in the MIAA with 276 passing yards per game. He has throw for 1,381 yards with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
“He’s a big guy, for sure,” junior PSU linebacker Nate Dreiling said. “Hopefully our D-line will take care of him so we don’t have to. He’s a big guy but he still moves well and he has good pocket presence ... we’ve been working on coming to our feet and bringing our balance when we hit him.”
Sophomore running back LaVance Taylor is averaging 84 yards rushing per game for the Mules, good for fifth in the MIAA.
“LaVance Taylor is the guy, whether he’s running it or catching it out of the backfield, who is very dangerous,” Beck said. “He’s a really fast player.”
Throw in a stout defense that is led by Latavious Davis’ league-leading six sacks and, clearly, the Mules present Pittsburg State its stiffest test to date.
But the Gorillas say they’re looking forward to the challenge.
“Coach Beck does a pretty good job of staying off (the message boards), but this is Pittsburg, so stuff gets back to us,” Wilson said. “People are saying we haven’t played anybody ... and this team hasn’t faced adversity, but just because we haven’t faced adversity doesn’t mean we won’t beat adversity.”