By Ryan Atkinson
Globe Sports Writer
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. —
New quarterback, new league foe, no problem.
Pittsburg State sophomore quarterback Anthony Abenoja — making his first collegiate start — threw for a school-record 378 yards and the Gorillas rolled to a 41-20 season-opening win over the Northeastern State RiverHawks on Thursday night at Doc Wadley Stadium.
“Whether its one point or 21 points, you have to be excited that we won,” Pitt State coach Tim Beck said. “We have a lot of things to fix and to clean up … but the potential that we see is obviously there … overall we were pretty pleased.”
Abenoja started splendidly, hitting 16 of his 19 first-half passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns. He finished the night 26-for-36 with three touchdowns and an interception.
He had the school record broken early in the fourth quarter.
“Records are records and they’re meant to be broken, I guess,” Abenoja said. “But it goes to our entire offense. I couldn’t have done it without them and I couldn’t have done it without the O-line and receivers.”
Abenoja hit nine receivers, including eight in the first half. He looked poised, taking the deep pass when it was there and checking down to the flats and running backs when he needed to.
“Anthony got off to a good start and made some huge third-down conversions that were important for us,” Beck said. “He did the things that were expected of him. He did a nice job on managing the offense … putting us in the right place.”
John Brown — who else? — was Abenoja’s main target. The junior caught nine passes for 140 yards and two scores, including an eight-yard touchdown catch that capped the game’s opening drive.
“He’s always going to do what he does,” Abenoja said. “ He’s a great athlete and he’s going to make plays happen.”
The RiverHawks, playing their first game as a member of the MIAA, scored on their first possession of the night when Terrance Dixon — who originally committed to Pitt State before changing his mind — broke though a huge hole in the PSU defensive line for a 46-yard touchdown.
But that was it for the first-half NSU highlights.
The Gorillas held the River Hawks — who were 22nd nationally last year in total offense — to 131 yards in the first half and 386 for the game.
“We probably made more mistakes that we’ve had since I’ve been here,” NSU coach Kenny Evans said. “To still be in the game and have chances I think speaks volumes for the team that we can have. … If they’re the No. 1 team in the nation, we can’t be that far behind.”
Johnny Deaton — an Oklahoma State transfer who threw for 2,520 yards for NSU last season — hit just two of his 11 first-half passes for 29 yards before finishing 15-for-38 for 244 yards, including a 52-yarder.
“This is a real good first step. It’s a good base,” Pitt State sophomore safety Jason Peete said. “We’re figuring out what we need to do to get our defense going and to get it No. 1 in the league again.”
The Gorillas got key touchdowns at the end of the first half — a 3-yard pass from Abenoja to Brady Letchworth after PSU overcame a 1st-and-goal from the 23 — and the beginning of the second half — a 4-yard run from Jeff Seybold that came after a 36-yard pass to Andrew Castaneda and a 27-yard Briceton Wilson run — to pull away with a 28-6 lead.
The Gorillas led 31-6 after Connor Frazell’s 29-yard field goal before NSU began closing the gap down the stretch. Another 29-yard field goal from Frazell and Abenoja’s perfectly-placed 21-yard pass to Brown all but slammed the door.