Pittsburg State’s backup quarterback Thomas LePage has ice in his veins.
For the third time this season, LePage was called upon to replace injured starting quarterback John Roderique. All three times, the Gorillas found themselves on the winning side of the scoreboard.
“When my number is called, I’m just doing anything to get the team a win,” LePage said. “I know when I go in there that something bad has happened. I got to make the best of my situation and get the team a win. I’m going to do everything in my power to do what I can.”
None was bigger than this past Saturday’s win in Pittsburg, Kansas.
— NCAA Division II (@NCAADII) October 29, 2017
Everyone who follows DII football knows about the run that Northwest Missouri State football has been on the past few seasons. The past three seasons have seen back-to-back championships and 38 straight victories, including 34 in a row against Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association opponents. The Gorillas snapped both streaks behind a 20-10 hard fought victory by both sides.
“Leaving the field was probably one of the best feelings I’ve ever had,” LePage said. “The whole team was going nuts. Everybody was jumping up and giving me high fives and grabbing me and hugging me. It was a great feeling all around. Before the game, Coach [Tim] Beck told us, ‘we know we’re going to win this game, so save it for the locker room.’ So, once we got to the locker room, it went crazy.”
The last MIAA team the Bearcats lost to before the streak started? You have to go all the way back to October 18, 2014 when this same Pittsburg State program defeated the Bearcats 35-17. To say that this has become one of the marquee rivalries in DII football is an understatement.
LePage was there for both of those wins.
“The Bearcats are our biggest week,” LePage said of the annual showdown. “Going into that week of practice, everyone is focused, everyone is squared up on what we need to do. I was telling the team the night before the game that [they’re] going to remember this day for the rest of their lives. One game I remember in particular was playing Northwest my sophomore season . Even though I didn’t get to play, I remember everything about that game. I was telling the team they’re going to remember this game, a lot of plays and what happened throughout this game because we’re going to come out on top. And it happened.”
— Gorilla Gameday (@GorillaGameday) October 28, 2017
The rivalry is pretty remarkable when you look at the numbers. Since 2011, when Pittsburg State won the national championship, Northwest Missouri State has 84 wins and just nine losses. The Gorillas have handed the Bearcats four of those losses, 4-4 over the last eight matchups. Not many teams can boast that kind of success rate against the program that has won three of the last four DII football titles. The game has become must-watch television every year, no matter what the records are of each team heading into it.
Of course, the Bearcats run has been predicated by one of the best defenses in the history of DII football. Heading into Saturday’s game, the Bearcats allowed a mind-boggling 1.5 yards per carry this season.
“I started against them two years ago, and their defense was really good, too,” LePage raved about his rivals defensive unit. “I had to play against them last year, also. Every year they have the best defense we play the whole season.
“We thought that we were good enough to go in there and run the ball,” LePage said. “No one has been able to run the ball against them all year. I think they averaged 39 rushing yards a game, so we were going to go in there and try to establish the run. We did at some points, but at some points they stopped us pretty good.”
When the clock struck zero, Pittsburg State had racked up 136 yards rushing. That’s the most against the vaunted Bearcats defense all season, tied with Washburn in its Week 2 output. LePage completed 64 percent of his passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns. The only numbers that mattered, however, were those on the scoreboard, and not the box score. Pittsburg State got over .500 with arguably the biggest upset of the 2017 DII football season.
And they did it at Carnie Smith Stadium. Nicknamed “The Pitt” or “The Jungle”, it’s not an easy play for anyone to come in and leave victorious.
Anyone but the Gorillas, that is.
“It’s awesome getting that win for our fans,” LePage said. “When we come out of our locker room and we walked to the stadium, all the fans were just pumped. Our Gorilla Walk is something to witness, it’s awesome. To get that win in our home stadium for our home fans, it means the world to them and the world to us. It’s awesome to be a part of.”