By Ryan Atkinson
Globe Sports Writer
The Pittsburg State Gorillas play host to the Lindenwood Lions today at 2 p.m. on Senior Day at Carnie Smith Stadium.
But despite a two-game skid — which was snapped with last week’s 20-6 win at Truman State — the No. 18 Gorillas aren’t quite ready to accept the notion that this may be the last game of the year in The Jungle.
“Hopefully it’s not our last game. Hopefully the football gods are with us and some crazy stuff happens,” senior defensive back Jake Catloth said on Thursday. “It’s bittersweet. I’m just going to take in everything I can and get the most out of it. But like I said, we’re playing like we’re planning on coming back here at some point.”
The Gorillas know they’ll need plenty of outside help to make the playoffs — as referenced by Catloth’s mention of football gods — but they also know they’re closer to a possible berth than they were last week.
Pitt State debuted in the regional rankings at No. 10 this week. The top six make the postseason.
Well, perhaps not everyone knew of the rankings.
“I didn’t even know that, actually,” said senior running back Trezz Tillman. “We don’t pay attention to that at all … we just take it a day at a time.”
Today brings a test from Lindenwood, which is having a solid campaign in its MIAA debut season. The Lions enter 6-3 overall and 5-3 in the league after last week’s 45-30 home win against Missouri Southern. Their losses have come to Central Missouri, Emporia State and Washburn.
Lindenwood is driven by its offense, which averages 412 yards and 30 points per game. Denodus O’Bryant has racked up 868 yards rushing and eight touchdowns through nine games. Freshman quarterback Dillon Miller stepped in for the injured Ben Gomez two weeks ago and has thrown for 433 yards and four touchdowns.
Andrew Helmick is the Lions’ biggest receiving threat with 909 yards and nine touchdowns. Helmick had TD catches of 63, 65 and 73 yards last week against Missouri Southern, and he returned a punt 76 yards for a score.
“Their tailback and receiver both make a lot of them and they’re very talented,” Pitt State coach Tim Beck said. “They’ve got some very, very good talent on both sides of the ball.”
The Gorillas have been hurt by turnovers this season, losing 10 fumbles and throwing eight interceptions in their first eight games. Pitt State lost two more fumbles in last week’s win, including one inside the Truman State 5-yard line.
“We’ve got to quit turning the ball over,” Beck said. “We turned it over in a couple crucial spots again last week … that’s something we have to fix.”
Pitt State seemingly made some fixes to its rushing attack last week, running 64 times for 382 yards while attempting just 15 passes.
Part of that was likely an attempt to kick-start a ground attack that didn’t have much success in losses to Northwest Missouri and Missouri Western, but it was also a strategy specific to the Bulldogs.
“A lot of times we’ve got a couple plays packaged when we walk up to the line of scrimmage and sometimes it’s a run and a pass,” Beck said. “It depends on alignments what we get, but that was something Truman hadn’t seen a lot of. They hadn’t had anybody line up and run right at them.”
That said, the Gorillas will likely use more of the straight-ahead ground attack against the Lions, who are 102nd nationally in run defense.
“We want to be not predictable, but we want to establish the run,” Beck said.