Final: Lincoln falls to Pittsburg State 59-38, as reported by Adam Stillman at @adamstillman87. (Look for the game story posted later and in Sunday's News Tribune newspaper.)
The Lincoln Blue Tigers finally host their home opener today. Their reward?
A date with arguably the best football program in NCAA Division II history. At the very least, Pittsburg State is the winningest program in the Division II ranks, having racked up an astonishing 666 wins in its 105th year of football.
Coming off a national championship in 2011 and currently ranked 12th in American Football Coaches Association poll, the Gorillas are certainly among an elite class of programs Lincoln aspires to reach one day.
"Pittsburg State has a phenomenal university and football program, but Northwest Missouri State does and Central Missouri and Missouri Western, so we don't want to slight those guys by saying you want to be Pittsburg State," Lincoln head coach Mike Jones said. "They're the last (MIAA) team to win a national championship, so everyone is aiming for them and aiming to do what they did."
As Lincoln prepares to take on Pittsburg State in a 2 p.m. kickoff at Dwight T. Reed Stadium, the Blue Tigers sure have their hands full.
Pittsburg State tops the MIAA in scoring offense (56.3 points per game) and total defense (292.3 yards allowed), while sitting second in scoring defense (12.3 points allowed), total offense (547.7 yards) and rushing offense (289 yards), among others.
"It's quite obvious they're a good offense," Jones said. "You have to respect what they do."
Pittsburg State (3-0) owns victories against Northeastern State (45-6), Central Oklahoma (65-24) and Southwest Baptist (59-7). And while those teams all were picked to finish near the bottom of the MIAA in the preseason polls, as was Lincoln, the Gorillas promote an offense capable of scoring against just about anybody.
The biggest threat is wide receiver/kick returner John Brown. A two-time All-American, Brown already has racked up 15 catches for 296 yards and three scores this season. He also has a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to his name.
"You have to know where he is on the football field, and then when he has the ball you have to tackle him," Jones said. "That's the bottom line. He's a heck of a football player. We have to get people, multiple guys, not just one guy one-on-one because he does a great job one-on-one."
Brown isn't the only Gorilla to worry about.
"Everybody worries about John Brown, but they do a great job of running the football," Jones said.
Jeff Seybold headlines the Gorillas' vaunted ground attack with 295 yards on 37 carries to go along with six touchdowns.
Quarterback Anthony Abenoja has rushed for 147 yards and two scores. The junior signal-caller, in his second year as a starter, also is a prolific passer. Abenoja is 48-of-68 (70.6 percent) for 732 yards, nine touchdowns and no interceptions.
On the other side of the ball, Nate Dreiling is the guy to watch. A three-time All-American, the fifth-year senior is bidding to become the all-time MIAA tackles leader. He is 83 tackles shy of the record.
"They are playing lights out," Jones said of the Pittsburg State defense. "They have 11 guys flying to the football. Of course, they're led by Nate Drelling. He's playing exceptionally well."
Pittsburg State is the type of team that gives coaches nightmares. That's why Jones is focusing on his squad heading into today's matchup.
"We're not trying to keep up with Pittsburg State, we're trying to play Lincoln University football," he said. "I think a lot of times we get worried about what other teams are doing and forget about what we need to do.
"We need to focus defensively on being sound, tackling the football and getting turnovers.
"Offensively, run our offense. Whatever they give us, we take. One game we might rush for 300 yards and one game we might throw for 300 yards. It all depends."
Lincoln, coming off a 59-10 loss against Missouri Southern, is looking to move on from that debacle.
"We took a step back last week in all phases of the game, so we need to get back to where we were against Grambling State (a 47-34 win for the Blue Tigers)."
"After a win, we didn't let it go. Same thing with a loss like that, we have to learn+ how to be upset about what happened on Sunday, clear it and then get ready on Tuesda+y. We didn't do a good job when we won, so we have to do a better job with the way we played last week."
That won't be easy against a perennial MIAA powerhouse. Even in the home opener.