FLORENCE, Ala. — For two years Zac Dickey heard the critics, heard the doubters around Pittsburg.
That’s what happens when you are the hometown kid playing quarterback for a hometown team that isn’t living up to expectations with five- and six-win seasons.
On Saturday, Dickey and his Pittsburg State teammates silenced the doubters and returned the Division II national championship to the school for the first time in 20 years, topping Wayne State (Mich.) 35-21.
In a game filled with big plays, it was Dickey’s 53-yard completion to Andrew Castaneda that set up Jason Spradling’s game-clinching 4-yard touchdown run with 2:38 to play.
“Being from Pittsburg, you probably hear too much of the good and too much of the bad,” said Dickey, who threw for 190 yards on just 10 completions, and ran for 68 yards. “We had a lot of critics over the last two years. We were trying to bounce back, and it’s great to end my career on this note.”
Pittsburg State (13-1) overcame an early 7-0 deficit when Wayne State’s Josh Renel returned the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown.
But Pittsburg State’s defense came up with four turnovers against a depleted Wayne State (12-4) offense, and used a special teams touchdown in the second quarter to turn a 14-13 deficit into a 20-14 lead when Aries Herrion returned a blocked field goal 80 yards for a touchdown.
It was a satisfying victory for coach Tim Beck, a longtime assistant who was on the staff the last time the Gorillas won the national championship. He has a picture of that team in his office, but said it was time to change it out.
“It’s hasn’t sunk in yet,” said Beck, who took over for Chuck Broyles after the 2009 season. “We probably should be more excited than we are, but it’s an awesome feeling to see our coaching staff and the players’ hard work come together and have an opportunity to win a national championship.”
To win that title, Pitt State had to beat a Wayne State team riding a four-game road winning streak. The Warriors got 178 yards and two touchdowns from leading rusher Toney Davis, but lost Renel, who had 1,343 yards during the season, to a foot injury in the second quarter. Leading receiver Troy Burrell went out with a shoulder injury early in the third quarter.
Pittsburg State linebacker Nate Dreiling, named to the AP Little All-America first team Friday, led the defensive effort with 15 tackles and a blocked punt. The Gorillas intercepted Mickey Mohner three times, including an end zone pick by Elijah Olabode with 1:34 to play.
“Pittsburg State played a great game and we turned the ball over and made mistakes in the kicking game and those cost you football games,” said Wayne State coach Paul Winters, who had the Warriors in the championship game for the first time. “They’re a fine football team, an excellent football team.”
After Renel gave Wayne State the early lead, Pittsburg State went ahead 10-7 on Eric Love’s 15-yard run and Chase McCoy’s 37-yard field goal.
Davis gave Wayne State a 14-10 lead with a 1-yard run late in the first quarter before McCoy cut the lead with a 34-yard field goal.
With Wayne State threatening again, Paul Robinson turned momentum Pitt State’s way when he came off the edge to block Stefan Terleckyj’s short field goal. Herrion returned it 80 yards to put the Gorillas on top 20-14. Dickey closed the half with a 6-yard toss to Bristan Kelley for a 27-14 lead.
Davis cut Pitt State’s lead to 27-21 with another 1-yard run at the 5:11 mark of the fourth quarter. Dickey’s pass to Castaneda set up the clinching score.
Notes — Pittsburg State became the 10th school to win two or more Division II titles. The last time the Gorillas won, Brian Hutchins, another local product, was the quarterback. . . . The championship was the fifth for a team from the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association. . . . Herrion’s 80-yard return for a touchdown on a blocked punt was the first in the championship game. Renel’s opening 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was the second in championship game history. Pitt State’s Ronald Moore returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown against Jacksonville State in 1992.
Wayne State 14 0 0 7 — 21
Pittsburg State 10 17 0 8 — 35
W — Renel 93 kickoff return (Terlecky kick)
P — Love 15 run (McCoy kick)
FG McCoy 37
W — Davis 1 run (Terlecky kick)
P — FG McCoy 34
P — Heerrion 80 blocked FG return (McCoy kick)
P — Kelley 6 pass from Dickey (McCoy kick)
W — Davis 1 run (Terlecky kick)
P — Spradling 4 run (Castaneda pass from Dickey)
Rushing — Wayne State, Davis 28-178, Mohner 8-14, Renel 5-10, Martin 2-9, Maybanks 1-0. PSU, Dickey 16-68, Spradling 14-62, Wilson 7-34, Love 1-15, Thomas 1-8, Brown 2-3, Dixon 1-0, team 3-(-3).
Passing — Wayne State, Mohner 7-16-3 59. PSU, Dickey 10-16-2 190.
Receiving — Wayne State, McKae 4-30, Maybanks 2-16, Burrell 1-13. PSU, Brown 5-99, Kelley 2-18, Castaneda 1-53, Spradling 1-13, Thomas 1-7.