By Ryan Atkinson
Globe Sports Writer
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
With a bye week and a brutal stretch of some of the MIAA’s best teams awaiting, the No. 1 team in the nation might have trouble showing up to play a winless and historically downtrodden program.
That was far from the case on Saturday night at Carnie Smith Stadium.
The Pittsburg State Gorillas scored 35 first-quarter points and cruised, in every sense of the word, to a 59-17 win over the Lincoln Blue Tigers in front of a sellout crowd of 10,779.
Pitt State moves to 4-0 overall and in the MIAA. Lincoln is 0-4 and is still looking for its first league win since rejoining the MIAA last season.
“You kind of worry about how you’re going to come out in a game like this,” Pitt State coach Tim Beck said. “These games worry you a lot as a coach when you have a 3-0 team against an 0-3 team … but we did a really good job of coming out. Our coaches did a nice job of being aggressive with our play calls.”
The Gorilla starters were on the sideline before the first half was over, but they still put up some impressive numbers.
Sophomore quarterback Anthony Abenoja completed five of his six passes for 116 yards and a touchdown, a 37-yard bullet to Luke Rampy on the final play of the first quarter that stretched the Pitt State lead to 35-3.
Briceton Wilson rushed seven times for 69 yards and three touchdowns. His 40-yard rumble set up his 1-yard touchdown that made it 14-3.
John Brown — and you may want to sit down for this one — finished his quick night without a reception. But the standout junior still sent the second-largest crowed in school history into a frenzy, racking up 112 yards worth of kick returns, including a dazzling 68-yard punt return for a touchdown that made it 42-3 early in the second quarter.
The first eight rushes for the Gorillas either went for a first down or a touchdown and PSU finished the first quarter with 159 yards of offense to Lincoln’s 68 — 59 of which came on one play.
“We did a nice job of keeping them off balance,” Beck said. “That was nice to see. We played pretty good football in the first half.”
Senior defensive end Gus Toca finished the first half — and the night — with three sacks and a forced fumble, which set up Trezz Tillman’s 8-yard touchdown.
The Gorillas forced the Blue Tigers into 12 third-down situations in the first half, only one of which Lincoln converted. Pitt State, meanwhile, faced just once third down in the first two quarters.
“We got off to a good start,” Toca said. “We came out with fire on our breath and we got after it.
“It shows how focused we were on the game plan and what we had to do. The defense played real well.”
The first minute of the game was a foreshadowing of what was to come.
Lincoln gained just one yard on three plays to set up a punt from its own 17. Gavin Lutman blocked the punt and Israel Maselera recovered in the end zone for a 7-0 lead with 13:52 left in the first quarter.
The first quarter saw Pitt State score 35 points on 11 offensive plays and saw the Gorillas take advantage of Lincoln miscues like the 3-yard punt off the foot of Jon Manning.
The Blue Tigers, while facing Pittsburg State’s second and third teams, created some offense.
Jacob Morris finished with 119 yards passing while Lewis Larson finished with 86.
Morris’ 64-yard touchdown pass to Maurice Woodard cut the Gorilla lead to 56-10 late in the second quarter.
Lincoln had 106 yards rushing as a team.
The Gorillas now enter a bye week before welcoming Central Missouri on Oct. 6. The Fall Classic at Arrowhead against Northwest Missouri follows before a home game with Missouri Western.
“We’re going to watch film on this game tomorrow and then focus on UCM and get ready for them,” Toca said.