Special to The Sun
The University of Central Oklahoma celebrated Armed Forces Day Saturday at Wantland Stadium, but unfortunately the visitors from Pittsburg State supplied most of the fireworks with a 65-24 triumph over the Bronchos.
The loss dropped UCO to 0-2 in Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association play, losing at Missouri Southern in their season opener last week. The Bronchos will attempt to get on the winning track Saturday with a 6 p.m. kickoff at Wantland Stadium against league foe Emporia State.
Outstanding even in defeat for the Bronchos was senior running back Josh Birmingham from Luther, who continued his assault on the Central Oklahoma offensive record books. After being held in check in the first half with just 41 yards in 11 attempts into the massive Gorilla defensive front, Birmingham injected some enthusiasm into the Broncho faithful after the Gorillas had scored on their first possession of the third period.
Quarterback Adrian Nelson took a direct snap, whirled and handed the ball to Birmingham, who plowed through a hole opened by a pair of 280-pound freshmen offensive linemen, Brandon Waggoner from Jenks and Mason McLaughlin, a redshirt freshman from Arlington, Texas.
Birmingham then cut back and picked up a block on the linebacker from Tuttle senior Sterling Koons, sidestepped a safety, then outran the secondary to the end zone for a 73-yard jaunt. Seth Hiddink, who had toed through a 34-yard field goal in the second period, added the PAT for the Bronchos.
What was different about his 12th carry of the night?
“They had a linebacker keying on me every time I got the ball. The guys up front were laying some good blocks but the hole was always plugged. Koons (Sterling) kicked him out and all I saw was daylight.
“I figured I could outrun the secondary if I could just get a step,” Birmingham said.
But he wasn’t though. In the fourth quarter following the next-to-last Gorilla TD, Marquis Clark caught the ball in the end zone and worked his way out to the 32 for a first down.
Nelson and Birmingham hooked up again, this time for a 10-yard pass and a first down at the 42. After Clark gained two and Birmingham four, Nelson hit Clark with an 11-yard gainer and a first down just across midfield.
Norman freshman Donovan Roberts then gave Birmingham a breather and gained 11 yards on two plays to set up a 12-yard pass from Nelson to Caden Locke that gave UCO a first down at the 18. Roberts moved it to the 16 before Birmingham came back and bulled his way through a linebacker near the goal line for the 50th touchdown of his illustrious career tying him with James Hooks with 50 TDs. But, he is still one point shy of the scoring record.
Birmingham is already the school-record holder in all-purpose yards and added 189 Saturday night to enable him to crack the 5,000-yard mark with 5,121 total yards. He is 837 yards short of Steve Tate’s (he is also from Luther) record with eight games remaining.
Saturday’s 150 yards rushing marked the 16th time as a Broncho that he has surpassed 100 yards rushing.
The final UCO touchdown came late in the contest and featured the arm of Nelson, who finished 19-of-33 for 194 yards, picking up 11 of UCO’s 21 first downs in the passing game.
Starting from his own 34 with the final Pittsburg State kickoff of the evening with 7:41 remaining in the contest, Nelson connected with Clark for six yards and then Birmingham picked up nine on his final carry of the evening. Following an incomplete pass, Jake Gandera gained 11 to cross midfield to the 42.
Roberts picked up 14 yards in two carries and Nelson passed to Koons for five more to the Gorilla 23.
Nelson then nailed Clark with a perfect strike down the sideline and the Texarkana, Texas junior dashed into the end zone for the touchdown. Hiddink’s extra point was good for the final score.
The vaunted Pittsburg State offense cranked out 361 yards rushing and added 238 more through the air in racking up a Wantland Stadium record 35 first downs.