Pittsburg State gets late turnover to hold off Nebraska-Omaha, 35-28
A key fumble late in the game took momentum away from Nebraska-Omaha and gave it right back to Pittsburg State.
That late momentum led the 13th-ranked Gorillas to a 35-28 win over the Mavericks on Saturday at Carnie Smith Stadium.
For the first three quarters of the game, Nebraska-Omaha had not really used the pitch part of the option. In fact, UNO quarterback Zack Miller was able to score on an option read where he didn’t pitch the ball.
However, late in the fourth quarter, down by 14, the Mavericks had three option pitches for positive yards. It was the fourth that was one too many.
With the Pitt State clinging to a 35-28 lead in the fourth quarter, Miller attempted a pitch to running back Brian McNeill but the pitch was bobbled and Alex Kuhlman picked up the loose ball at the PSU 21 with 4:47 to play.
“On the fumble, I was able to blitz and he (Miller) made the pitch a little too late,” Kuhlman said.
Earlier in the drive, Miller and McNeill had used the option pitch three times to pick up 36 yards, putting themselves deep in Gorilla territory.
“We were running so much option, and it’s a split-second thing,” Miller said. “I was getting him on the pitch every single time and he was getting used to it, seeing the same play over and over, and he broke on it a half-second earlier. He barely got a fingertip on it. Hats off to him. He made a good play, and that’s that.”
One more dagger Pitt State threw on their third play from scrimmage after the fumble with Mark Smith hit Harrison Kush across the middle on a 40-yard pattern down to the UNO 33.
“Defenses are not going to expect that on third and short,” Smith said.
The Gorillas put themselves in solid position in the first half after Nebraska-Omaha looked like they would make their first drive pay off until Maverick quarterback Zach Miller attempted a pass to Troy Kush on the fourth play of the opening drive.
Kush, however, bobbled the ball right into the hands of Kuhlman, which gave the ball to the Gorillas on their own 19.
“Those things are so important because, you have to get off to a good start,” said UNO head coach Pat Behrns.
Pitt State drove the ball into Maverick territory until Mark Smith dropped back to pass on first down and had Ricky Luedeman open down the center of the field by was sacked by Jacob Skow back into Gorilla territory at the 49.
Smith did not make the same mistake twice because, the very next play, Smith hooked up with Nathan Thomas down to the Maverick 12.
A few plays later, Caleb Farabi caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Smith to put the Gorillas up 7-0 with 6:36 remaining in the first quarter.
After the Gorilla defense held the Mavericks on their own side of the field, the Pitt State offense showed prowess on moving the football to the UNO 45.
On the seventh play of the drive, Smith found Marques Nelson in double coverage. Nelson made a juggling catch right into the end zone to give the Gorillas a 14-0 lead with 1:00 left in the first quarter.
Pitt State’s defense continued to hold the Mavericks in check, allowing just 39 yards of total offense, including zero passing yards, into the second quarter. The Gorillas went into halftime with a 21-7 lead.
But, the Mavericks did not feel left out of the game after a very slow start in the first half.
The Mavericks capitalized on an early mistake by the Gorillas in the second half.
Jared Witter attempted to roll out on a punt but was met by three different UNO rushers back at the PSU 14.
Two plays later, Miller found Keith Eloi on a 14-yard touchdown pass to cut the Gorilla lead to 21-14 with 12:03 left in the third quarter.
On the ensuing drive, Pitt State sustained another drive deep into Maverick territory but Witter’s 25-yard field goal attempt went wide left.
Nebraska-Omaha started to move the football before Miller started on an option read and faked out Brett Shamblin which allowed him to tie the game with a 27-yard touchdown run with under a minute left in the third quarter.
Just before the end of the quarter, Smith had an option keeper for 23 yards.
The Gorillas broke the tie with 12:33 left in the game when Smith, after getting hit out of bounds by Steve Janda, followed Brandon Clark into the end zone from 4 yards out to give the Gorillas a 28-21 lead.
“It (the penalty) went against us and that is all that you can say,” Behrns said.
It was the defense, and more specifically Chris Swartz, that came up big.
After Witter put the kickoff at the Maverick 12, Swartz blew up the UNO offensive line to sack Miller back at the 3.
After a 13-yard return to the UNO 38, the Gorillas took five plays capped by a 16-yard touchdown run by Clark around the right side to increase the PSU lead to 35-21 with 7:36 to play in the game.
“We felt like we had an opportunity to come back and win the game, and we did gave ourselves a chance,” Miller said. “But a good football made a few more plays than we did and came out on top.”
With the win, the Gorillas will stay in the top four of the Super Regional 4 heading into next week’s game at 2 p.m. next Saturday at Fort Hays State.
“It was another one of those games when you let them in for free and charge them on the way out,” PSU head coach Chuck Broyles said.
Matthew Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 620-231-2600, Ext. 140.