By Ryan Atkinson
Globe Sports Writer
Pittsburg State coach Tim Beck said he asked his players on Tuesday if they were feeling pressure leading up to today’s Fall Classic at Arrowhead XI, when the No. 1 Gorillas will face the No. 7 Northwest Missouri State Bearcats.
They were not.
It seems that the Fall Classic has been, well, classic enough over the years that the nerves and pressure have given way to anticipation of a raucous crowd in the stands and a heavyweight bout on the field.
“This game is so fun,” Pitt State senior defensive end Gus Toca said. “It’s a great stadium … and the atmosphere with so many people there is great. And playing Northwest is one of the greatest feelings ever.”
Today’s game will mark the seventh time in the Fall Classic’s 11-year run that both teams are ranked in the top 10.
Last year’s 38-35 Pitt State win — which saw the Gorillas rally from a 28-6 halftime deficit — snapped Northwest’s five-game winning streak in the Classic and seven-game overall streak against the Gorillas.
Pitt State beat the Bearcats again in November, a 41-16 home win in the national quarterfinals, but the Gorillas are well aware that Northwest is back to its old self again this year, having scored 136 points in its last two games.
“(Northwest) Coach (Adam) Dorrel spoke really highly of their defense, and their defense is really good,” Beck said.
“But they’ve scored a lot of points and have been very explosive the last couple weeks. They do a tremendous job of spreading the ball around … and do a really good job of not having very many tendencies.”
Northwest quarterback Trevor Adams has been stellar after missing time with an injured ankle. The senior has started four of the Bearcats’ six games and has thrown for 1,056 yards on 69 of 115 passing, ranking 14th nationally in passing efficiency.
Brady Bolles and Tyler Seals filled in when Adams went down, each passing for 250-plus yards. Bolles has also rushed for 288 yards, behind only James Franklin’s 336 for the team lead.
“The young Bolles kid has come in and he’s probably a part-time second-team quarterback or maybe their third-string quarterback but yet he’s the second-leading rusher,” Beck said. “They do a good job of training the next guy and getting him ready to go. Adams is a very good player, but if something happens and he doesn’t play, they have guys with experience who are very capable.”
The Pitt State defense has registered 23 sacks through five games, including five from Toca. Northwest, meanwhile, has allowed just six sacks in its six games.
“If we can take our four defensive linemen and get pressure on (the quarterback) and not have to bring a fifth or sixth guy … the better off we’ll be,” Beck said. “We’ll have to see what the game dictates and what we’ll have to do, but it will be important for us to eventually get pressure on him.”
Northwest, allowing just 13 points per game, will give sophomore quarterback Anthony Abenoja and the Gorilla offense its greatest test thus far.
Pitt State ranks ninth nationally in scoring and 10th in total offense with 485 yards per game.
“It will take a total team effort,” Abenoja said. “The defense has to compliment the offense and the offense has to compliment the defense. We have to put a complete game together.”
While exact numbers weren’t available, Pittsburg State officials said advance ticket sales were better than they had been the last two years, when the Fall Classic drew its two smallest crowds (16,504 and 15,106, respectively.)
The first Fall Classic, in 2002, drew 26,695, still a record. The 2004 season-ending clash that pitted No. 1 Pitt State and No. 2 Northwest Missouri drew 25,542.
“The crowed is my favorite part,” Toca said. “We get a great crowd here and I know Northwest gets a great crowd in Maryville. And having both of them together, it gets loud. I love it.”