PITTSBURG — Washburn quarterback Dane Simoneau waited a long time for this. He'd come so close, so many times in his record-setting career.
Saturday, he finally got a signature win. And it was a beauty.
Simoneau picked apart No. 2 Pittsburg State for 290 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in a 43-25 upset in front of a beyond-capacity crowd of 9,053 at Carnie Smith Stadium.
"This is huge, just feels great," said Simoneau, a senior and Washburn's career passing leader. "I thought our defense played great today, and yeah, I've heard the 'overrated' chant a couple of times in my career, so to win here feels pretty special."
The win pushed No. 9 Washburn (9-1, 7-1 MIAA) into a two-way tie for first place in the MIAA with Pittsburg State (8-1, 7-1). Washburn closes out its regular season next Saturday at home against Central Missouri. The Gorillas host Missouri Southern in their finale. If both teams win, they'll share the title.
"No finger pointing, no excuses, we just got beat by a better team," Pittsburg State coach Tim Beck said. "We should feel bad about this for a couple of days, but the good news is we've still got something to play for."
After a scoreless first quarter, both sides trudged through the first part of the second quarter stuck at 0-0 before Simoneau hit 6-foot-7 tight end Ryan Mertz for the game's first score with 7:16 left in the first half. Jeremy Linn's 23-yard field goal put Washburn up 10-0 almost 90 seconds later, but Pittsburg State's John Brown returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to 10-7.
On Washburn's next offensive play, Gorillas safety Paul Robinson returned a fumble by Washburn's Sean McPherson 28 yards for a touchdown and 13-10 lead.
Simoneau didn't waste time on the Ichabods' next drive, hitting DeJuan Beard on back-to-back passes to push Washburn into Pittsburg State territory and capping the drive with a 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tore Hurst for a 17-13 lead with 2:22 left.
Beard led all receivers with six catches for 118 yards.
"To play with a great quarterback like Dane is a blessing," Beard said. "We wanted to win for the seniors."
With just under a minute to play before halftime, Pittsburg State running back Briceton Wilson fumbled at midfield and the ball bounced into the hands of Ichabods defensive back Devon Connors, who cut back across the field for a 52-yard touchdown and a 24-13 lead.
"I got the ball and all I saw was glory, baby," Connors said. "The quarterback was the only one who had a real shot and I knew he wasn't going to tackle me."
Pittsburg State missed a big chance to get back in the game on the opening drive of the second half, driving to the Washburn 11 before Washburn defensive end Corey Walker sacked Zac Dickey for a 12-yard loss on third-and-5. Chase McCoy missed a 41-yard field goal attempt.
Washburn converted field goals of 29 and 41 yards by Jeremy Linn on its next two possessions to go up 30-13 with just over 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Pittsburg State fumbled the next kickoff deep in its own territory and Washburn's Justin Cooper scored five plays later on a 3-yard touchdown run for a 37-13 lead.
"Not getting anything out of that first drive killed us," Beck said. "Not just for the points but for the confidence... you could really feel the momentum swing back their way after that."
Pittsburg State threatened late in the game, cutting Washburn's lead to 37-25 after back-to-back touchdown passes from Dickey to Brown, but Cooper sealed the win with a 74-yard touchdown run with 4:54 remaining.
"Our defense did terrible today on third downs," Pittsburg State linebacker Nate Dreiling said. "Even being down at halftime we still had a lot of confidence coming back out, but we couldn't get anything going at all."
Northwest Missouri has won the last five MIAA titles — Washburn was the last team besides the Bearcats to do it, winning in 2005.
"A conference championship is a big deal," said 10th-year Washburn coach Craig Schurig. "And I know I'm prejudiced, but I think we play in the toughest (NAIA) conference in the country. To have a shot at winning it is a big thing."
Washburn (9-1, 7-1) 0 24 3 16 — 43 Pittsburg State (8-1, 7-1) 0 13 0 12 — 25
WU—Mertz 18 pass from Simoneau (Linn kick)
WU—Linn 23 FG
PSU—Brown 100 kickoff return (McCoy kick)
PSU—Robinson 28 fumble return (kick failed)
WU—Hurst 3 pass from Simoneau (Linn kick)
WU—Connors 52 fumble return (Linn kick)
WU—Linn 29 FG
WU—Linn 41 FG
WU—Cooper 3 run (Linn kick)
PSU—Brown 32 pass from Dickey (pass failed)
PSU—Brown 41 pass from Dickey (pass failed)
WU—Cooper 74 run (pass failed)
Rushing—Washburn, Cooper 28-159, McPherson 15-70, Beard 1-2, Simoneau 2-(-4), Team 1-(-2). Pittsburg State, Wilson 17-71, Dickey 13-59, Love 1-3.
Passing—Washburn, Simoneau 25-46-290-0. Pittsburg State, Dickey 15-23-198-1.
Receiving—Washburn, Beard 8-116, Kobbeman 6-68, Garner 4-62, Cooper 3-12, Hurst 2-12, Mertz 1-18, McPherson 1-2. Pittsburg State, Brown 4-102, Thomas 4-37, Wilson 3-18, Rampy 2-21, Castaneda 2-20.