By Ryan Atkinson
Globe Sports Writer
At times on Saturday night the Pittsburg State Gorillas looked like the defending national champions and the top-ranked team in the country, playing in front of an overflow crowd.
At times — specifically the third quarter — they looked like a team struggling with a weaker opponent trying to find its footing in a new league.
In the end the Gorillas came away with a 34-19 win over the Central Oklahoma Bronchos at Carnie Smith Stadium, but those inconsistencies were on coach Tim Beck’s mind afterward.
“As a group, we’re not as consistent as we need to be,” he said.
We’ll start with the good.
Pittsburg State (2-0, 2-0 MIAA) racked up 540 yards of offense, including 296 yards passing and 54 rushing from quarterback Anthony Abenoja, 127 and 100 receiving from John Brown and Andrew Castandena, respectively, and 108 rushing from Briceton Wilson.
And the Gorillas came out strong, forcing a three-and-out before going on a seven-play, 62-yard drive that was highlighted by Wilson’s 35-yard run and capped by Abenoja’s 12-yard touchdown pass to Bradley Argabright.
The Gorillas tacked on three more scores — runs from Abenoja and Wilson and a 28-yard field goal from Connor Frazell — for a 24-7 halftime lead.
But after halftime is when the bad kicked in.
Pitt State managed just 28 total yards in the third quarter while UCO (0-2, 0-2) got a safety, thanks to a botched shotgun snap that was booted out of the end zone, and a 19-yard Chris Robbs field goal that made it 24-12 heading into the final quarter.
“We had too many three-and-outs in the third quarter and kept our defense out there too long,” Beck said. “Offensively if we’re more consistent, that will help us defensively.
“We can pick up some yardage in chunks and put up a lot of yards in a hurry. But we also have to be able grind it a little but and be more efficient and effective in our run game and we weren’t as much as we’d like to.”
The Gorillas forced UCO to punt after the Bronchos opened the fourth quarter with a 2nd-and-3 from their own 40.
Abenoja then hit Castaneda on a 34-yarder down the middle to set up his 17-yard option keeper for a touchdown that made it 31-12. It was Abenoja’s second rushing touchdown of the night.
“We don’t care if we throw the ball for 300 yards or run the ball for 300 yards, whatever it takes to win,” Abenoja said of his Zac Dickey-esque zone-read rushes. “The option game worked well for us tonight and helped out a lot.”
UCO answered after Abenoja’s touchdown with a quick nine-play, 78-yard drive that was camped by Josh Birmingham’s 4-yard score that made it 31-19 with 7:19 left.
But the Gorillas converted a pair of 3rd-downs on the next drive, including a fade route from Abenoja to Brown on 3rd-and-5 from the UCO 49, to set up Frazell’s 29-yarder that made it 34-19.
Two plays later Aries Herrion intercepted Adrian Nelson’s deep pass and Pitt State was able to run out the clock on the win.
The Gorillas gave up 336 yards of offense to UCO, including 202 in the second half.
Nelson passed for 191 yards while Birmingham rushed 19 times for 122 yards, including a 55-yarder that gave the Bronchos their first 1st-down early in the second quarter.
“They had some big plays on us, which hurt,” Pitt State linebacker Nate Dreiling said. “Every once in a while they’d get a 15-, 25-, 30-yarder and that killed us. We missed a couple tackles … we’ll work on that stuff.”