KANSAS CITY, Mo. — No. 7 Northwest Missouri State gave up the first touchdown of the game before rallying to score 28 unanswered points to shift the momentum completely on the way to handing No. 13 Pittsburg State its first loss of the season 38-17 Saturday afternoon before 14,228 fans at Arrowhead Stadium.
“We got off to a decent start. We just weren’t consistent enough in the run game,” Pittsburg State coach Tim Beck said. “Defensively we were just on the field too much in the first half. In the third quarter, we got them to several three-and-outs. We just couldn’t generate enough offense.”
Northwest Missouri (6-0) held Pittsburg State (5-1) to 87 rushing yards on 35 carries, while the Bearcats ran for 270 yards.
“They just had a really good D-line and are really, really disciplined in what they do,” PSU quarterback Brandon Mlekus said. “It makes it tough on an option team to get it going, especially when they execute as well as they do.”
The Gorillas opened the scoring on their second possession when Mlekus found wideout Lorenzo West for a 78-yard play-action touchdown pass to gain the 7-0 lead. But by time Pittsburg State crossed the goal line again, a six-yard pass touchdown pass from backup Mak Sexton to Neosho product Bryce Murphy with less than five minutes to play in the first half, Northwest Missouri was in control with a 28-14 advantage.
Following the early PSU touchdown, Northwest Missouri answered right back with a four-play, 73-yard drive that culminated in a six-yard shovel pass from Braden Wright to tight end Marqus Andrews to tie the game at 7-7 with 8:33 left in the first quarter.
The Bearcats struck again near the five-minute mark when backup quarterback Mike Hohensee found Andrews for a 20-yard score to push the lead to 14-7.
Northwest Missouri went up two touchdowns after Imoni Dondalle ripped off a 59-yard touchdown on a jet sweep reverse with 12:37 to play in the second quarter.
“The double-reverse was just a well-executed play,” Beck said. “Northwest always does a good job of being able to bring something new that they haven’t done before.”
The Bearcats’ final of four unanswered touchdowns came on fourth down-and-7 with less than seven minutes left in the first half. Northwest Missouri lined up for a 52-yard field-goal attempt before switching formations at the line of scrimmage to a passing set, leading to a 35-yard touchdown pass from Hohensee to Andrews up the seam. Andrews finished with three catches for 61 yards and three touchdowns.
“(Andrews) is a great player,” Beck said. “They did a really good job of finding ways to get him the ball. … He is a dynamic player … and is a big part of what they do offensively.”
Following Murphy’s touchdown reception, Bearcats kicker Parker Sampson converted a 41-yard field goal with 31 seconds left to send the game into the half with the Bearcats holding a 31-14 lead.
Both offenses were limited by strong defensive play in the second half, as neither team scored in the third quarter and were kept in check for most of the fourth. PSU kicker Jared Vincent converted a 22-yard field goal with 2:47 left in the game for the first points of the second half to cut the Bearcats’ lead to 31-17.
The field goal was answered by a 48-yard rushing score by Wright with 1:23 to play. Wright led all rushers with 172 yards and a score on 17 carries.
“He is very athletic and you have to keep him contained,” said PSU linebacker Chase Johnston, a Carl Junction product. “At the same time, we game planned that and should have executed better.”
Sexton completed 10-of-35 passes for 126 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions, while Mlekus was 1-of-5 for the 78-yard touchdown. Mlekus led PSU in rushing with 39 yards on 15 carries. West caught five passes for 163 yards and a touchdown.
Pittsburg State returns home for a noon matchup against Fort Hays State on Saturday at Carnie Smith Stadium in the homecoming game.