Gorillas itching for first action of 2013

Pittsburg State vs. Northeastern State University
By: Brian Pommier, Team Kong Contributor
Sep 6, 2013

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Things are starting to getting a little tense at Pittsburg State practices. A high-powered offense and a strong defense have been colliding for the last month, and now both are itching to play against some new faces.


“We have our ups and downs against our defense,” said PSU quarterback Tony Abenoja. “Anytime we can do well against our defense, I feel pretty good. Our defense is really good and really fast. They kick our butts a lot, so on days when we kick their butts, it feels good.”


Maybe for Abenoja. But for senior linebacker Nate Dreiling, the competition was very real.

“It’s been a fun month of camp,” Dreiling said. “Everyone wants to win every drill, so obviously something has to give.”


The time has come, however, for the Gorillas to stop competing internally and turn their attention to the Northeastern State University Riverhawks when PSU hosts the MIAA foe at 7 p.m. Saturday at Carnie Smith Stadium.


Saturday also will mark the first time the Gorillas have opened a season at home since 2009 -- meaning it will be a first for Dreiling. He said he is ready for what is expected to be a raucous, near-sellout crowd.


“I know it’ll be a packed house,” Dreiling said. “Hopefully we can put on a show for them.”

The Gorillas faced Northeastern State last year for the first time since both teams were NAIA teams in the 1980s. PSU opened their NCAA Division II national title defense a year ago with a 41-20 win at Tallequah, Okla. In that game, Abenoja -- making his first start for the Gorillas -- set a school record with 378 passing yards and two touchdowns, both to wide receiver John Brown, who had 270 yards of total offense in the rout.


But the Northeastern offense has a few of their own threats that Dreiling and the defense will have to contend with.


The Riverhawks return junior running back Joel Rockmore, who was an all-conference performer last year with 1,024 yards and 10 scores in just nine games. Add in that he was second in rushing in the MIAA, and it is clear that stopping the rushing attack is first priority for the Gorillas.


“The first thing for our defense is to stop the run,” PSU head coach Tim Beck said. “They have good balance with (senior quarterback) Johnny Deaton throwing the ball. They’re going to strive for balance, so we’ve gotta take care of the run to make them one-dimensional.”


Which is why that competition over the last month could pay off in a big way.


“This has been such a different dynamic as far as preseason camp,” Beck said. “This last week has felt like game week. I think our players and coaches think they are ready to go. I know the excitement level is at an all-time high.”


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