By BEN JOHNSON
The general consensus in Northeastern State’s locker room following a season-opening loss to Pittsburg State was as expected.
The RiverHawks knew they threw away a chance to potentially knock off the nation’s top-ranked team. After all, the Gorillas gave the ball away four times — on three occasions in the first half — in a 41-20 decision at Doc Wadley Stadium last Thursday.
Yet, NSU couldn’t capitalize — not even once.
“After watching [the film] and going through it with the players, we all feel like we had our opportunities,” NSU head coach Kenny Evans said. “We just didn’t take advantage of the opportunities in front of us.”
Despite the setback, NSU was able to take solace in the fact that it did do some things well.
Exhibit A: establishing a rushing attack spearheaded by Terrance Dixon. The sophomore tailback ran for 128 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries.
“I thought Terrance Dixon did a good job rushing the ball, no doubt,” Evans said. “They pride themselves on shutting down the run. That can also be attributed to the offensive line, which also only gave up one sack and that was a play where the running back missed his block.”
Safety Victor Johnson was also high on Evans’ list of praise. The Oklahoma State transfer led the RiverHawks with 14 tackles, 10 of which were the solo variety.
“Defensively, Victor Johnson was around the ball a lot,” Evans said. “He was very physical, and there are some guys on their team that can’t play next week because of him.”
NSU, on the other hand, came away from its first game of the season unscathed.
“We’re in great shape,” Evans said. “I don’t think we’ll have anybody out.”
As the RiverHawks prepare for their game at Missouri Southern this Saturday, on area they’re focusing on getting better at is rushing the quarterback. NSU had only one sack on Pittsburg State quarterback Anthony Abenoja, which did come from a defensive lineman but rather Victor Williams, a reserve defensive back.
“We have to get better in pass defense,” Evans said. “We have to be able to put pressure on the quarterback and have to play our assignments.”
Also in the season opener, NSU received a huge scare in the second half. Quarterback Johnny Deaton scrambled and was slammed hard to the ground when he was brought down. But the sophomore quarterback shrugged off the pain following a timeout and continued on.
“He came down hard on the ball and it knocked the air out of him,” Evans said. “But give him credit, after he took a drink he was ready to go. That says a lot on his part.”