PITTSBURG — Tony Abenoja tossed a two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Brady Letchworth with 6:20 remaining in the game to help seal a 30-21 victory for No. 1 Pitt State over upset-minded Central Missouri Saturday (Oct. 6) at Brandenburg Field/Carnie Smith Stadium.
The Gorillas trailed 21-17 with 14:54 remaining in the contest when UCM's Colter Smith plunged into the end zone from a yard out.
Pitt State led by as many as 14 points in the first half, but the Mules (4-2, 4-2 MIAA) successfully held the Gorillas in check in second half until Abenoja connected with wide receiver John Brown on a pivotal 46-yard play on a pivotal 3rd-and-12 play. Brown's catch set up Pitt State (5-0, 5-0 MIAA) on the UCM 23 yard line.
Four plays later, fullback Mandel Dixon capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown plunge. Connor Frazell missed the extra point, but the Gorillas reclaimed a 23-21 lead with 11:25 remaining in the game.
Down two points, UCM failed to mount an offensive challenge down the stretch. The Gorillas got a key QB sack from Joe Uzzel and forced the Mules into a quick punt and then the Pitt State offense found renewed life.
Abenoja completed a 39-yard pass to Luke Rampy and then Brown made an acrobatic catch down to the UCM 2 yard line two plays later. Abenoja then tossed the touchdown pass to Letworth to give the Gorillas a nine-point margin.
The Pitt State defense then forced another three-and-out by UCM with 4:57 to go and the Gorillas ran off nearly four minutes of clock before Abenoja was intercepted in the UCM end zone by Ricky Spratley.
The Mules moved the ball to the UCM 41 before Smith threw incomplete on a fourth-down play with five seconds remaining to effectively end the game.
Abenoja completed 23 of 38 passes for 336 yards and two touchdowns in the contest. Brown made nine catches for a game-high 157 yards, including a 13-yard first-quarter touchdown catch. Rampy also had nine catches for a career-best 144 yards for the Gorillas.
Jason Spradling rushed the ball 18 times for 134 yards. The Gorillas rushed the ball 40 times for 171 net yards in the contest.
For the Mules, Smith completed 16 of 32 passes for 256 yards. He also carried the ball 14 times for one net yard and two scores. Smith had 54 yards gained but lost 53 yards as the Gorillas registered six QB sacks.
Nate Dreiling led Pitt State with 10 tackles, while Jason Peete added eight stops. Marquise Cushon registered 1.5 QB sacks and blocked a punt in the contest.
The top-ranked Gorillas will travel to Kansas City, Mo., next Saturday (Oct. 13) to face eighth-ranked Northwest Missouri State University in The Fall Classic at Arrowhead XI. The Bearcats rolled to a 70-7 win over Central Oklahoma Saturday. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. (CDT) next week at Arrowhead Stadium.