PITTSBURG — Hope for opponents of the Pittsburg State football team has been only temporary during the Division II playoffs.
The positive feelings for Delta State on Saturday were even more short-lived than of the teams the Gorillas steamrolled the previous two weeks.
With four minutes to go in the first half, Delta State trailed by a point after a blocked punt recovery for a touchdown. By halftime, Pittsburg State had a 22-point lead and was well on its way to a 49-16 victory in the D-II semifinals.
The Gorillas play for the national championship against Wayne State next Saturday in Florence, Ala.
"It's very satisfying to get into the national title game," Pittsburg State quarterback Zac Dickey said. "Where we are right now, you can't argue about that, you can't complain about that. But that's not what this team is about. We've got to come out and win another ballgame."
Two weeks ago against Washburn, Pittsburg State trailed 16-7 in the second quarter before rallying for 24 unanswered points. Last week, Northwest Missouri jumped to a 10-lead on Pittsburg State before surrendering the next 34 straight points.
Those comebacks took parts of multiple quarters to complete. Saturday, the Gorillas needed a handful of minutes, thanks to a difference-making defense, to turn a close game into a blowout before halftime. They continued to pour it on after halftime, making outstanding plays on offense and defense.
With an offense that had managed two field goals to that point, Delta State made it 14-13 when a Gorillas player batted a blocked punt into the hands of Bill Franks, who raced into the end zone untouched.
The Statesmen's offense continued to sputter and their defense was unable to limit the Gorillas at the end of the first half.
In less than three minutes, Pittsburg State scored three touchdowns and undoubtedly had its fans checking hotel room availability in Alabama next weekend.
"We complement each other," Pittsburg State defensive end Gus Toca said. "If we get a turnover, the offense is motivated to drive it down the field and get a touchdown. That just makes us want to get more turnovers, to get them going. That's how we feed off each other."
After Delta State's touchdown, Pittsburg State started in Statesmen territory after a significant punt return by John Brown. The Gorillas receiver also contributed to the scoring drive, catching a 17-yard pass two plays before Jon Thomas' 30-yard touchdown reception from Dickey.
Brown did more than just contribute to Pittsburg State's next scoring series, made possible by Nate Dreiling's interception of Micah Davis. Brown broke free from defensive back Dwight Tillman, who injured his knee on the play, for a 30-yard score down the sideline.
Brown, a 5-foot-11, 170-pound sophomore, used his versatility to spark the Gorillas in several phases.
He started the scoring with a 43-yard punt return after Delta State's first series, and he was a vital part of Pittsburg State's passing game, catching four passes for 80 yards and having a second touchdown called back on a penalty away from the ball.
"I like to get off to a good start," Brown said. "I like to put away teams earlier. The earlier I can get the ball in my hands, the better it can be."
The Gorillas' quick-striking offense was made possible by the efforts of their defense, which produced two turnovers during the first-half scoring binge.
The unit, led by linebacker Nate Dreiling, recovered two fumbles and had three interceptions of Davis, including one for a second-half touchdown by Paul Robinson. The Gorillas kept Davis, a finalist for the Harlon Hill Trophy that goes to the top Division II player, uncomfortable, with Dreiling notching an interception climbing into Pittsburg State's top 10 in career tackles.
Pittsburg State returns to the national championship game for the first time since 2004, when it lost to Valdosta State. It also was runner-up in 1995 and 1992 and won the last of its three titles in 1991.
Delta State (11-3) 3 10 0 10 — 23 Pittsburg State (12-1) 7 28 0 14 — 49
PSU— Brown 43 punt return (McCoy kick)
DSU—Dean 19 FG
PSU—Dixon 1 run (McCoy kick)
DSU—Dean 35 FG
DSU—Franks 33 blocked punt return (Dean kick)
PSU—Thomas 30 pass from Dickey (McCoy kick)
PSU—Brown 38 pass from Dickey (McCoy kick)
PSU—Kuntzsch 39 pass from Castaneda (McCoy kick)
PSU—Dean 29 FG
PSU—Spradling 25 run (McCoy kick))
DSU—Clayton 35 pass from Davis (Dean kick)
Rushing—Delta State, Freelon 13-50, Mitchell 3-16, McBride 2-6, Lucas 5-6, Horn 2-5, Botill 3-4, Davis 15-(-29). Pittsburg State, Seybold 5-58, Spradling 8-57, Dickey 13-55, Love 2-41, Wilson 9-24, Brown 1-6, Rampy 1-5, Dixon 2-1, Team 1-(-1).
Passing—Delta State, Davis 27-58-365-3, Vye 2-2-42-0, Lucas 0-1-0-0, Team 0-1-0-0. Pittsburg State, Dickey 12-22-168-1, Castaneda 1-1-36-0.
Receiving—Dennis 11-131, Clayton 4-95, Franks 3-61, Freelon 3-26, Smith 3-18, Botill 2-39, Ollie 1-19, Hopkins 1-10, Horn 1-8. Pittsburg State, Thomas 5-64, Brown 4-80, Castaneda 2-18, Kuntzsch 1-36, Combes 1-6.