NCAA FOOTBALL: Gorillas harness Mustangs in Mineral Water Bowl

By Jeff Arenz

EXCELSIOR SPRINGS, MO. – It was a historical day for the Southwest Minnesota State football team Saturday.

Not only did the Mustangs play in their first bowl game of any kind – the 48th Mineral Water Bowl – but SMSU allowed a school record for points during a 90-28 loss to the NCAA Division II No. 17-ranked Pittsburg State Gorillas.

“Pitt State is a very talented ballclub and they deserve a lot of credit. They exposed us in a lot of ways,” SMSU head coach Cory Sauter said. “They are a team that could, potentially, still be playing in the playoffs. Pittsburg State dominated us in all three phases of the game and we did not play very well. When you put those things together, things get out of hand in a hurry.”

Southwest Minnesota State’s previous high for points allowed was 85 during an 85-0 home loss to Michigan Tech on Oct. 25, 1975.

Despite receiving the opening kickoff, the Mustangs trailed 7-0 after only 35 seconds had expired. On the third play from scrimmage, Avery Adair sacked SMSU quarterback Charlie Kern, who fumbled before Joe Uzzel recovered the ball and returned eight yards for a touchdown.

The Mustangs, who were forced to kick the ball away on their next possession, saw DeVante Bausby block Mike Wenk’s five-yard punt and give the Gorillas the ball at the Southwest Minnesota State 25-yard line. It led to a 23-yard field goal from Connor Frazell, who extended Pittsburg State’s lead to 10 points 3 minutes into the game.

The rest of the first quarter saw the Mustangs and Gorillas trade touchdowns.

Tyler Tonderum – one of nine national finalists for the Harlon Hill Award – capped a nine-play, 71-yard drive with a 15-yard touchdown run as SMSU trimmed its deficit to 10-7 at the 5:04 mark. He finished with 166 yards on 26 carries to lead the Southwest Minnesota State offense.

After John Brown – a Super Region 3 finalist for the Harlon Hill Award – caught a 12-yard TD pass from Anthony Abenoja to put Pittsburg State ahead 17-7, the Mustangs also responded through the air two plays later. Anthony Dean slipped behind the Gorillas’ defense, where he hauled in a 74-yard touchdown pass from Kern with 55 seconds left in the first quarter.

Brown caught seven passes for 152 yards, while Dean made two receptions for 79 yards.

Pittsburg State wasn’t finished scoring in the first quarter.

Jeff Seybold produced a 52-yard touchdown run as 2 seconds remained in the opening period, helping the Gorillas take a 24-14 lead.

Seybold’s TD run sparked a Pittsburg State scoring explosion. It was the first of six consecutive touchdowns by the Gorillas, who turned to Abenoja to toss four second-quarter TD passes as PSU took a 52-14 advantage. Abenoja’s touchdown strikes went 59 yards to Austin Daniel, 26 yards to Gavin Lutman, seven yards to Conner Combes and 43 yards to Brown in the span of 9 minutes.

“It was very disappointing after we had a great season to have that type of performance,” Sauter said. “It was shocking to me. Ultimately, we feel like we have a lot be proud of with this season. We will put this game behind us and move on to recruiting.”

SMSU tried to rally behind Tonderum, who busted free for a 78-yard run to PSU’s 1-yard line with about 3 minutes left before halftime. But Kern threw an interception to Tyler Disney, who ran 99 yards for a touchdown on the Mustangs’ next play from scrimmage.

Southwest Minnesota State’s only answer before the intermission came on a two-yard TD run by Kern with 63 seconds left in the first half.

It was all Pittsburg State in the second half.

The Gorillas won the third quarter 10-7 on Ramsey Hamilton’s three-yard touchdown run and Frazell’s 27-yard field goal. Kern added a one-yard TD plunge for his second score of the game.

“I would hope that a result like this builds a fire in our juniors who will be seniors taking the field next fall,” Sauter said. You always want to end your season on a great note and that didn’t happen for us. I think this will help our offseason workouts and it should help us get the attention of our players and our coaches to make sure that we are taking a step forward. We can only to that by working each and every day, trying to find ways to get better.”

SMSU linebacker Dashawn Miller made a career-high 14 tackles. He also forced a fumble which he recovered and returned 71 yards to set up Kern’s second touchdown.

Kern ended by completing 13 of 41 passes for 164 yards.

Pittsburg State tacked on three fourth-quarter touchdowns – all runs from Abenoja (18 yards), Brian Poston (three yards) and Hamilton (38 yards).

Abenoja, who went 17 of 24 for 323 yards with five touchdown passes, was named the Offensive MVP of the contest. Disney earned Defensive MVP honors.

The Gorillas finished the season with a 10-2 record as Pittsburg State recorded the program’s 20th 10-win season, including 18 times since 1985. The Mustangs, who had a four-game winning streak to end the regular season, finished their season at 7-5.

NOTES: Tonderum finished the season with 2,199 yards and 19 touchdowns on 341 carries. He averaged 178.8 rushing yards per game. The game was played at Tiger Stadium at Excelsior Springs, Mo., High School.




At Excelsior Springs, Mo., High School



Pittsburg State24351021-90

Southwest Minnesota State14770-28


First Quarter

PSU – Joe Uzzel 8 fumble recovery (Connor Frazell kick), 14:25.

PSU – Connor Frazell 23 field goal, 11:30.

SMSU – Tyler Tonderum 15 run (Lance Schuveiller kick), 5:04.

PSU – John Brown 12 pass from Anthony Abenoja (Connor Frazell kick), 1:36.

SMSU – Anthony Dean 74 pass from Charlie Kern (Lance Schuveiller kick), 0:55.

PSU – Jeff Seybold 52 run (Connor Frazell kick), 0:02.

Second Quarter

PSU – Austin Daniel 59 pass from Anthony Abenoja (Connor Frazell kick), 12:46.

PSU – Gavin Lutman 26 pass from Anthony Abenoja (Connor Frazell kick), 10:48.

PSU – Conner Combes 7 pass from Anthony Abenoja (Connor Frazell kick), 5:23.

PSU – John Brown 43 pass from Anthony Abenoja (Connor Frazell kick), 3:57.

PSU – Tyler Disney 99 interception return (Connor Frazell kick), 3:06.

SMSU – Charlie Kern 2 run (Lance Schuveiller kick), 1:03.

Third Quarter

PSU – Ramsey Hamilton 3 run (Connor Frazell kick), 13:18.

PSU – Connor Frazell 27 field goal, 5:27.

SMSU – Charlie Kern 1 run (Lance Schuveiller kick), 1:56.

Fourth Quarter

PSU – Anthony Abenoja 18 run (Connor Frazell kick), 11:59.

PSU – Brian Poston 3 run (Connor Frazell kick), 5:05.

PSU – Ramsey Hamilton 38 run (Connor Frazell kick), 1:49.


First Downs2818

Total Yards666403


Passing Yards323164


Sacked-Yards Lost1-112-12

Return Yards213284




Time of Possession34:1525:45


RUSHING – Pittsburg State (Jeff Seybold 16-185, Anthony Abenoja 13-51, Ramsey Hamilton 3-44, Dre Holman 4-27, Steven Sullivan 6-24, Brian Poston 3-20, John Brown 2-0, Darrack Harger 1- (minus 2), Marquise Cushon 2- (minus 6)); Southwest Minnesota State (Tyler Tonderum 26-166, Charlie Kern 9-29, Ashanti Payne 7-29, Caleb Burns 3-15).

PASSING – Pittsburg State (Anthony Abenoja 17-24-323-5-0); Southwest Minnesota State (Charlie Kern 13-41-164-1-1).

RECEIVING – Pittsburg State (John Brown 7-152, Gavin Lutman 3-45, Conner Combes 3-17, Austin Daniel 2-62, Marquise Cushon 2-47); Southwest Minnesota State (Britt Wickett 3-10, Anthony Dean 2-79, Tyler Tonderum 2-15, Jordan Cross 2-14, Will Kurka 2-13, Adam Olson 1-20, Cody Condon 1-13).