WARRENSBURG — The UCM defense didn’t allow a touchdown for the second straight week Saturday as it beat Pittsburg State 34-6 to win its seventh straight game.
It’s the third week in a row the Mules have allowed 10 points or fewer and it’s the first time the Gorillas failed to score a touchdown since Week 4 of last season.
“That’s big time, especially against a good team,” said Mules linebacker Austin Miller.
The Gorillas came into the game having won four straight against the Mules and seven of the past nine.
“It’s great to come out and just dominate them,” said Mules defensive end Josh Powell.
The Mules defense wasted no time to make an impact Saturday, forcing a fumble on the second play of the game.
Jackson Newman ended up with the ball for UCM’s first of two fumble recoveries of the day.
The turnover gave UCM the ball at the Pittsburg State 48-yard line, but the Mules couldn’t make up for a 10-yard sack on the first play and ended up punting.
Powell recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter when he scooped up the ball and ran down the opposing sideline for a 33-yard score to put UCM up 31-6 with 13:16 remaining in the game.
“I just kind of came outside, the ball was loose, picked it up and ran, made sure the ref made the decision if it was a fumble or not and just took it to the crib,” Powell said.
The Gorillas were able to get some production on the ground with nine players combining for 216 yards on 51 carries, but the Mules were able to make big plays to stop drives.
Pittsburg State quarterback Thomas LePage only passed for 112 yards, completing 11-of-26.
A Miller sack on the Gorillas’ second drive of the game forced a punt and a sack by Powell and Kadarius Green limited the Gorillas to a 47-yard field goal in the final minute of the first quarter.
The Gorillas got their final points of the game on a 30-yard field goal with 8:22 remaining in the first half.
Miller was able to bring down LePage for no gain on third-and-goal to stop that drive.
Pittsburg State punted six times, fumbled twice and turned it over on downs twice in 13 drives. The other three drives were two made field goals and a missed field goal.
“Our coaches put us in an alignment and the rest of the guys around me, them playing fast and everybody hustling really put us all in the right spots and really made us click as a defense,” Miller said.
The Pittsburg State defense was also productive early on Saturday, limiting UCM to just 10 points in the first half.
“Starting off it was frustrating,” said Mules coach Jim Svoboda. “It’s easy to kind of get into that poor me kind of thinking and our kids were having none of it. They stayed right with it.”
The lone touchdown for the Mules in the first half was a 70-yard score on a fake punt.
On fourth-and-12 on their own 30-yard line, the Mules snapped it to Ian Toalson, who had plenty of blockers and open space down the UCM sideline to score and put UCM up 7-0 with 5:25 remaining in the first quarter.
“It’s a little bit like and audible to some extent where you can’t really call it before you go out there,” Svoboda said. “You’ve got to see what they line up in. If they line up in it, you do it and they did it to perfection.”
The third quarter didn’t start off well offensively for UCM, but it turned a third-and-19 into a 79-yard touchdown to take a 17-6 lead with 8:49 remaining in the third quarter.
UCM lined up receiver Andrew Bakker outside on the left and he beat the cornerback to the inside with a quick slant, made the defender miss and ran free for the score.
“It was man so that’s where the ball needs to go and that’s where it went and what happened, happened,” Bakker said. “I couldn’t be more happy with the result.”
Bakker caught another pass on a slant later in the quarter, this time converting a third-and-6 with a 12-yard gain.
Bakker ended up with three receptions for 97 yards.
Garrett Fugate found Kyle Echols for a 17-yard completion and a 24-yard completion later in the drive and Markel Smith smashed his way into the end zone from two yards out to put UCM up 24-6 early in the fourth quarter.
Fugate was 10-of-24 for 220 yards and a touchdown.
Smith used physical running to gain 108 yards on 21 carries.
“Markel is a confident kid and he’s really learned how to play the college game,” Svoboda said. “In high school he could out run a lot of guys. At the college level you can do that, but you can’t do that every time. He’s figured out when he’s got to get those pads down and just keep those legs churning and run through people.”
Entering Saturday’s game, the Mules were ranked eighth in their region and the top seven earn spots in the Division II playoffs.
Two teams ahead of UCM lost Saturday, including No. 5 Emporia and No. 4 Sioux Falls.
UCM (8-2) will close out the regular season at 2 p.m. Saturday at Fort Hays State (7-3).
“We’ve got to get past them first and if we do we’ll see where it goes from there,” Bakker said.
Jason Strickland can be reached at 660-530-0147 or on Twitter @J_Strick_Sports.