By Ryan Atkinson
Globe Sports Writer
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
Pittsburg State head coach Tim Beck called them “money plays” during a Thursday afternoon press conference.
He was talking about Lindenwood’s penchant for explosive scoring plays and how dangerous they could be.
The Lions sure were money on Saturday.
Lindenwood’s Denodu O’Bryant scored on three plays of 80 or more yards — including a crucial 87-yarder in the third quarter — and the Lions shocked No. 18 Pittsburg State 44-33 on Senior Day at Carnie Smith Stadium.
“Pretty much same book, just a different chapter from two weeks ago,” Pitt State junior linebacker Nate Dreiling said, referring to a 63-14 home loss to Missouri Western. “We couldn’t stop the big plays.”
And none of those big plays hurt any worse than O’Bryant’s third-quarter catch.
The Gorillas — after a dull, seemingly uninspired showing in the first half — had scored 13 straight points to cut the Lion lead to 24-19.
O’Bryant was stopped for no gain and quarterback Dillon Miller was sacked for a loss of three yards by Avery Adair, setting up a 3rd-and-13 from Lindenwood 13.
The momentum, it seemed, was fully on the Pitt State sideline, which had finally come to life.
But Miller then hit O’Bryant on a middle draw and the 5-foot-9, 194-pound running back broke a tackle and went 87 yards for a touchdown to put the Lions up 31-19 with 2:48 to play in the third quarter.
“We’ve got them 3rd-and-long and they run a little draw and he goes 80 yards for a touchdown,” Beck said. “We just didn’t make the plays we needed to make.”
The wheels then effectively fell off for the Gorillas.
The ensuing kickoff was bobbled and the Gorillas began a fruitless drive at their own 2.
A short punt and return gave the Lions possession at the Pitt State 29 and Nate Orlando scored on the next play to make it 38-19.
Pitt State’s Marquise Cushon fumbled on the next play at the 25, leading to a Lindenwood field goal and a 41-19 led early in the fourth quarter.
“With this team, it’s pretty evident that it’s pretty much a roller coaster,” Dreiling said. “We’re either really high or really low. And I’ll take fault on that. We don’t have enough leadership to sustain us where we need to be.”
The Gorillas outgained Lindenwood by nearly 100 yards — 525-437. Anthony Abenoja passed for 303 yards and two touchdowns while Briceton Wilson rushed for 80 yards to key a 222-yard attack.
But it all went for naught thanks to Lindenwood’s big plays, the first of which came on the first play from scrimmage.
After a delay of game penalty moved the Lions back to the 20, Miller barely escaped heavy pressure from Gus Toca and lofted a floating pass toward the sideline. That’s where O’Bryant caught it and raced 80 yard to make it 7-0 just 15 seconds into the game.
“I thought he was throwing it out of bounds,” said Pitt State receiver Andrew Castaneda, who was watching the play from the sideline. “But there was a running back over there who is kind of fast.”
Neither team scored again until the first minute of the second quarter when O’Bryant broke free on a run up the middle and went 80 yards for a score.
“They obviously played very inspired and we were very uninspired, for some reason, in the first half,” Beck said.
O’Bryant finished with 167 yards receiving — the 80-yard and 87-yard touchdowns — while rushing 14 times for 147 yards.
The Gorillas made some noise in the fourth quarter — Castaneda hauled in a 75-yard touchdown and John Brown caught a 36-yard score — but it wasn’t enough.
“It’s real frustrating,” Castaneda said. “Any team in the MIAA, if you give them any advantage, any momentum, they’re going to take it. We can’t do that.”