By Bo Allegrucci
KANSAS CITY--It's hard to have a showdown when only one team shows up.
The eighth annual Fall Classic -- perhaps the premier Division II football rivalry, played each season in Arrowhead Stadium between MIAA heavyweights Northwest Missouri State and Pittsburg State -- did not live up to its billing ... again.
No. 7 Northwest Missouri dumped 20 first-quarter points on fourth-ranked Pittsburg and slammed the door with a fourth-quarter touchdown that made the final 30-10 Saturday in the home of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Northwest has now won six straight over Pitt State and 13 of the last 16 dating back to the mid 1990's, and while PSU needed a win over the Bearcats, Northwest needed this game this season (and wanted it) a little more than the Gorillas.
"Only" 20,813 fans -- the third lowest total in the rivalry's nine-year stay at Arrowhead -- met in KC this time around, and most of the Pitt State faction was headed for the exits midway through the fourth quarter. The Gorilla defense actually kept itself in the game, but the Northwest defense kept the game to itself.
The Bearcats' defensive line squashed everything that moved, and their pursuit pushed Pittsburg quarterback John McCoy into a pair of costly first-half interceptions. Northwest cornerback Aldwin Foster-Rettig made the first INT at the Pitt 33-yard line midway through the first quarter, which led to LaRon Council's one-yard score and a 7-0 Bearcat lead four plays later.
After a Pittsburg 3-and-out, Northwest converted two third downs on its next drive before tight end Kyle Kilgore capped the 62-yard march with a 2-yard touchdown reception from Blake Bolles. The Gorillas blocked the extra point, but Bearcat safety Marcus Martin intercepted McCoy three plays into the next PSU possession and took the rock 38 yards down the right sideline, leaping over McCoy into the end zone in front of the Bearcat faithful for a pick-6 and a 20-0 lead.
Northwest Missouri defensive end Tyler Roach (91) ends up horizontal as he attempts to block a Pittsburg State punt Saturday in the first quarter. Below, Bearcat tailback LaRon Council (27, who had 22 touches for 131 all-purpose yards and a rushing touchdown) elevates to catch a key third-down pass during Northwest' second scoring drive.
Northwest added a second-quarter field goal to make it 23-0, but Pitt State finally found its way home with a 13-play, 79-yard drive and an 11-yard McCoy touchdown run with 24 seconds on the first-half clock. The Gorillas seemed to have a faint trace of momentum heading into halftime, but only a pair of third-quarter interceptions by the Pitt State defense kept things from detiriorating into all-out embarrassment after the break.
The Bearcats took the second-half kickoff and were headed in for a certain score before Gorilla cornerback Bryan McMurtrey snatched a Bolles pass out of the air at the PSU 2-yard line. After the Pitt offense was stopped on downs near midfield, Pittsburg's other corner, Dustin Heckroth, intercepted Bolles on the first play of the fourth quarter inside the Pitt 30.
The Gorillas pushed all the way to the Northwest 3-yard line before settling for a 20-yard field goal that closed the gap to 23-10 with 11 minutes remaining. After a Northwest punt, McCoy threw another INT to Foster-Rettig midway through the fourth quarter, and Bolles converted that pick into a 12-yard touchdown toss to Brian Shannon with 6:32 remaining.
Bolles finished 17-of-29 for 193 yards, two TD's and two INT's, while McCoy was just 7-of-18 for three interceptions and three sacks. McCoy can thank the Bearcats' dominant D-line for most of his troubles: ends Tyler Roach and Kyle Sunderman, tackles Shayne Shade and Josh Lorenson, and back-ups Sean Paddock and Micah Wilson.
Kyle Sunderman (94), Josh Lorenson (99), Sean Paddock (97) and Tyler Roach (91) look to the sidelines for their defensive call Saturday in second half. Below, Shane Shayde (98) needs no helmet to pursue Pitt State quarterback John McCoy as Paddock gathers McCoy's legs. This sack moved Paddock to within one of the school's career sack record.
Northwest is now 2-1 on the season and 2-0 in the MIAA, with a 16-point first quarter at second-ranked Abilene Christian (in a 19-14 loss) the only thing between them and a perfect record with Nebraska-Omaha's coming to Maryville Saturday.
Pittsburg State is also 2-1 overall but 0-1 in conference, and the Apes hope to rebound this week at 18th-ranked Central Missouri State -- Pitt State's fourth consecutive ranked opponent to start the season.