Gorillas' season ends with OT loss to MSU-Mankato

Photo by Justin Beasley
By: Brian Pommier
Nov 30, 2014

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MANKATO, Minn. -- Everything was set up for the Pittsburg State Gorillas. Not only were they in position to host Minnesota-Duluth next Saturday in the third round of the NCAA Division II playoffs, but they also were about to make history.

After a back-and-forth battle that saw the Gorillas tie the game midway through the fourth quarter and then hold No. 1-ranked Minnesota State-Mankato to a field goal in overtime.
But Pitt State decided to go for the jugular early in the extra period, and quarterback Anthony Abenoja’s pass on PSU’s first play of overtime was picked off in the end zone, ending the game and the Gorillas’ season. MSU-Mankato held on for the 24-21 win and will host Minnesota-Duluth in the national quarterfinals on Saturday.
Had Pitt State held on to win, the Gorillas would have been the first Division II team to beat two No. 1-ranked teams in the same season. PSU beat then top-ranked Northwest Missouri State at Maryville earlier in the season.
Things didn’t start out well for Pitt State, as the Mavericks took the opening kickoff and marched for an easy score. Then, Abenoja threw the first of his three interceptions on the Gorillas’ first possession, giving MSU-Mankato a short field. 
One of the many storylines of this game emerged at this point, however, as Mavericks kicker Alden Haffar saw the first of his three missed field goals sail wide right. 
The Gorillas fought back and got a 27-yard Conner Frazell field goal and a 27-yard touchdown pass from Abenoja to Gavin Lutman to take a 10-7 halftime lead.
After Mavericks head coach Todd Hoffner watched Haffar miss his second field goal of the first half just before time expired, Hoffner decided to go for broke on fourth-and-four from the PSU 34 midway through the third quarter.
That gamble paid off as quarterback Ricky Lloyd found Dorian Buford for a go-ahead touchdown, giving MSU-Mankato a 14-10 lead.
Pitt State answered with a 68-yard drive that stalled at the Mavericks 8 and ended in a Frazell field goal, making it a 14-13 Mankato lead. But the Mavericks weren’t done, as Lloyd capped a 48-yard drive with a two-yard TD run and making it an eight-point deficit for the Gorillas with 13 minutes left in the game.
Abenoja -- who ended the game … -- responded just two plays later by hitting Lutman for a 59-yard touchdown pass. Eager to tie the game, the Gorillas reached deep into the bag of tricks and offensive lineman Robert McField caught the two-point conversion from Abenoja, giving the Gorillas new life.
Pitt State had a chance to take the lead in regulation, but a penalty on third down at the MSU-Mankato 25 pushed the Gorillas back far enough that Frazell’s 47-yard field goal attempt fell short.
Things seemed set up for the Gorillas to take a dramatic win in overtime. After winning the coin toss, PSU elected to play defense first -- a tremendous advantage in extra time. Then, the Gorillas held the Mavericks to a field goal -- meaning a touchdown would win it for Pitt State and a field goal would send the game to another overtime period.
Unfortunately for the Gorillas, there was a third option. The Gorillas decided to be aggressive and try to score on the first play from the Mavericks 25. PSU attempted a wheel route to Michael Rose, but MSU-Mankato linebacker Tyler Henderson stepped in front of the pass in the end zone to end the game.
The loss ends Pitt State’s season, which included the school’s first trip to the playoffs since winning the 2011 national title. 

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