FLORENCE, Ala. — The slipper finally fits, again.
For the first time in 20 years, the Pittsburg State Gorillas returned to the pinnacle of NCAA Division II football.
A perennial power, Pitt State annually battled for supremacy in Division II but the last three chances the Gorillas had for national championships in Alabama came up painfully close but short in 1992, 1995 and 2004.
Saturday, Pitt State finished off a magical season with a 35-21 victory over Wayne (Mich.) State in the title game before a sea of crimson & gold clad fans with dominated the official crowd of 7,276 fans at Braly Municipal Stadium.
Wayne State (12-4) returned the game's opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown 11 seconds into the game and the Warriors, who were bidding to claim their fifth straight road win en route, led 14-10 with 13 seconds to play in the opening period.
Pitt State (13-1), like it has multiple times in the season, remained determined and undaunted.
Chase McCoy booted a 34-yard field goal to trim the margin to 14-13 with 10:26 to play in the first half. Then, Pitt State swung the momentum of the contest when Paul Robinson blocked a Stefan Terleckyj field goal attempt and Aries Herrion scooped up the ball and returned it 80 yards for a go-ahead score.
The Gorillas capped a 17-point second quarter with Zac Dickey tossing a six-yard touchdown pass to tight end Bristan Kelley with 15 seconds to play before the intermission, sending Pitt State to a 27-14 halftime advantage.
Neither team scored in the third quarter and Pitt State still held its 13-point lead until Toney Davis, who rushed for a game-high 178 yards in the contest, capped a 15-play, 76-yard drive with a one-yard run to make it a 27-21 game with 5:11 to play.
The Gorillas wasted little time quieting the Warrior uprising though. Two plays later, Dickey hit wide receiver Andrew Castaneda with a 53-yard strike down to the WSU 5. Two plays after that, Jason Spradling sprinted into the end zone untouched around the left end. Dickey then found Castaneda open in the end zone for a 2-point conversion and a 35-21 lead with 2:38 remaining.
Elijah Olabode sealed the victory for the Gorillas with an interception in the PSU end zone five players later – his second pick of the game – and the Gorillas hometown hero Dickey picked up a first down with a five-yard run, then clocked the ball three times for the victory.
Dickey completed 10 of 16 passes for 190 yards and rushed for a team-leading 68 yards on the ground.
John Brown caught five passes for a game-high 99 yards for the Gorillas.
Nate Dreiling made a game-high 15 tackles. Robinson had one of three Pitt State interceptions to go with his blocked field goal and Olabode finished the game with two interceptions.