By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
Missouri Western absolutely needed a win Saturday to stay alive in the NCAA Division II playoff race in Super Region Three.
They needed to get that win against No. 2 and 9-0 Pittsburg State. No pressure.
The Griffons, faced with a tall task, delivered.
Missouri Western (8-2) scored 14 unanswered points to open the second half. The Griffons then scored the go-ahead touchdown with 8:56 remaining and they blocked a Pitt State point-after with 7:09 to go.
That would be the difference in a 31-30 win for Missouri Western on Senior Day at Spratt Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Missouri Western had never beaten a top three opponent in their history. until Saturday. It's the first win over a top 10 and the first win over a top five opponent since 2012.
It also marks the Griffons' first win over Pittsburg State in St. Joseph since 2010.
The Gorillas (9-1), who had won 21 straight regular season games coming in, drove 65 yards on 15 plays on the game's opening drive, but had to settle for a 22-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
Later in the first, Pitt was pinned deep at their own 11. On a first down play, quarterback Chad Dodson, Jr. went back to throw, but the ball slipped out of his hand, resulting in a fumble, which was recovered by Keinan Gaskin.
Two plays later, running back Seth Cromwell punched it in on a two-yard touchdown run to put Missouri Western up 7-3 with 3:49 remaining in the first.
Pitt State scored four plays later on a 21-yard throw from Dodson to Kolbe Katsis, giving the Gorillas a 10-7 lead into the second.
Missouri Western answered with a 31-yard field goal from Cody Watson to knot the game at 10-10 with 11:18 left in the first half.
The Gorillas got the ball back on their own 8-yard line, and drove 92 yards on 10 plays in the closing minutes of the second quarter. Dodson scored on a three-yard touchdown run to give Pitt State a 17-10 lead at the break.
Both teams came up empty on their first series of the second half, but Missouri Western threw the first haymaker of the third quarter.
Sparked by a 46-yard catch from Jonas Bennett, the Griffons scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak from Reagan Jones, knotting the game at 17-17 with 6:31 left in the third.
Dodson threw an interception on the first play of the ensuing drive - a ball intended for Devon Garrison was picked off by MWSU's Sam Taylor.
Missouri Western turned it into points nine plays later.
Cromwell scored his second rushing touchdown of the day, this one from eight yards out, to put the Griffons up 24-17 with 3:02 left in the third.
Cromwell finished with 63 yards on 12 carries to lead the Griffons on the ground.
Like they had done all day long, Pitt State rallied when their backs were against the wall.
The Gorillas drove down the field to end the third quarter and scored on the first play of the fourth. Dodson connected with tight end Mario Kirby Jr. for a six-yard touchdown pass, tying the game at 24-24.
Missouri Western then engineered their longest scoring series of the game, going 73 yards on 11 plays.
That drive ended on third-and-goal from the 5-yard-line, when quarterback Armani Edden dumped off a pass to Bennett, who caught the ball inside the five and dove for the pylon to put the Griffons ahead 31-24 with 8:56 to go.
Bennett caught four passes for 79 yards and a score.
Edden completed 16-of-23 passes for 195 yards and a score. He also ran for 41 yards on 12 carries. The Griffons outgained the Gorillas in the ground game 151-59.
Yet again, Pitt had a fast answer, going 75 yards in just four plays on the ensuing drive. They scored on a 45-yard touchdown pass from Dodson to running back Cleo Chandler, Jr.
The ensuing point-after, however, was a low kick that was blocked, largely by Missouri Western's Brandon Johnson.
The Griffons, leading by a point, punted the ball back to the Gorillas with 3:49 to go.
Pitt State started at their own 20, and marched all the way to the Griffons' 30-yard-line in the closing minutes.
But, a pair of Dakari Streeter sacks and two Pitt State penalties pushed the Gorillas back to the MWSU 40-yard-line - out of field goal range.
On 4th-and-13 at the Griffon 33, redshirt freshman and backup quarterback Ty Pennington, who had to relieve an injured Dodson, was strip sacked by Streeter. The fumble was recovered by fellow senior C.J. Ravenell, and the Griffons held on for a massive victory.
Streeter finished with 2.5 sacks on his senior day, pushing his season total to 12.5 - the second most sacks in a single season in Griffon history.
Missouri Western's defense came up with nine tackles-for-loss and four total sacks. They also turned Pitt State over three times, while the Griffons remained turnover free.
Dodson, who got hurt on the game's final drive, completed 20-of-24 passes for 324 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He also ran for 14 yards and a score.
Missouri Western has won three straight, and they have their most regular season wins since 2019.
The Griffons conclude the regular season on Saturday, Nov. 11 at Missouri Southern (4-6) in Joplin.
Kickoff from Fred G. Hughes Stadium is set for 2 p.m. The game will be on KFEQ Radio (680, 95,3) with coverage starting at 1 p.m.
Full audio broadcast
2023 MWSU highlights - pregame show montage
You can follow Tommy on Twitter @TommyKFEQ and St. Joseph Post @StJosephPost.