Ian Carlson

The MIAA Goes Bowling and a Look Back at Playoff History

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A magical season came to an end in Hays this past weekend, as the Tigers lost their first game of the season to Ferris State in the second round of the playoffs by a score of 31-21. Fort Hays State, playing in their first playoff game since 1995, hung tough for roughly the first 35 minutes of the game, as a 66 yard Kenneth Iheme TD run early in the third quarter cut the FSU lead to 10-7. But the bigger Bulldogs finally wore down the Tiger defense in the second half, scoring touchdowns on three straight possessions and keeping the home team off the scoreboard during that stretch to go up 31-7 with about 11 minutes to go in the game. After the teams traded punts, the Tigers finally got back in the scoring column with less than a minute to play on another long Iheme run, this one from 81 yards away. Fort Hays then recovered the onside kick and scored five plays later to close out the scoring. While the final score was but a ten-point margin, the Bulldogs dominated the game, particularly with their defense. The Tigers finished with 146 yards on 18 rushes for an average of 8.1 yards per carry, but if you take out the two TD runs, they were held to negative yards rushing on the other 16 carries. The passing game needed a big day to compensate, and Mezera and Co. just couldn’t quite make it happen. The Bulldogs ran 86 plays to FHSU’s 55, and held the ball for a full quarter longer than the Tigers did, which helped them to gain over two hundred yards both in their passing game as well as on the ground to finish with 460 total yards of offense. The Bulldogs will return to the Regional Finals (they beat Grand Valley State in the Super Region 4 final last year) to take on Harding, who lost to NWMSU in last year’s Super Region 3 final. The Tigers fell to 0-3 all time in the NCAA playoffs, and the MIAA did not win a playoff game for the first time since 2003, when both Pittsburg State (North Dakota) and Emporia State (Winona State) were ousted in the first round.

As disappointing as the loss was to Tiger Nation, it was a great year for Chris Brown’s squad, as they set the school record for wins in a season, and won the outright MIAA championship for the first time in school history. It’s tough to win in the playoffs (especially against a very good FSU team that returned quite a bit of players from last year’s team that lost in the semifinals to eventual champion NWMSU--playing the Bearcats to their closest game), and history has shown that it can be tough for an MIAA coach to win their first playoff game. Only Dennis Franchione (1989 PSU-their first season in the NCAA and MIAA), Chuck Broyles (1991 PSU, winning the NC), Mel Tjeerdsma (1996 NWMSU), Adam Dorrel (2011 NWMSU), and Tim Beck (2011 PSU, winning the NC), have won their first NCAA playoff game as MIAA Head Coaches. Brown has done a tremendous job since taking over the Tigers in 2011, improving the team in some aspect every single year he’s been there. In each of his first five seasons at the helm, he improved the Tigers win total from the previous year by one, going from 4-7 in 2011 to 8-4 in 2015. While they didn’t improve to 9 wins last year to keep the streak going, they did win the Heart of Texas Bowl to match their 2015 record. Considering the improvement from last year into this year, it has to be exciting for the Tiger faithful to see what happens next year. A lot could happen, but perhaps Brown and his staff can lead them to their first ever playoff win or better in 2018.

A Look at the MIAA in the Playoffs Through the Years

As I mentioned earlier, this year was the first season since 2003 that the conference didn’t win a playoff game. That ended a tie with the PSAC for the second longest streak in Division II (the PSAC kept their streak alive this year). The longest streak belongs to the GSC, which was last held winless in the playoffs in 1999 (National Runner Up Carson Newman defeated lone GSC representative Arkansas Tech in the first round). The next best after the top three is the league that beat the MIAA both times this year, as the GLIAC last went winless in 2012 (lone rep Ashland lost in the second round to WTAMU after earning a bye for the first round).

Before Pittsburg State transitioned from the NAIA to the NCAA and joined the MIAA in 1989, the conference had never won a playoff game, going 0-2. Yes, that’s right--just two teams (Truman St.--then NE Missouri State--in 1982, and NWMSU in 1984) even made it to the tournament before the Gorillas came onto the scene. From the first Division II playoffs in 1973 to 1987, only eight teams made the field each year, and the MIAA just had the two representatives. (Fun fact: none of the teams in the first D2 playoffs are even in the Division anymore. In fact, not until West Alabama and Northern Michigan made the field in 1975 did a team currently in Division II make it to the playoffs.) Even when the field expanded to 16 teams in 1988, no MIAA team was deemed good enough for the field. In 1989, Pittsburg State made it in their first year, and won their first NCAA playoff game against fellow MIAA member NWMSU before falling the next week to Angelo State. Since then, an MIAA team has made the field in every year. Only the GSC (from 1977 on) and the PSAC (from 1987 on) have a longer streak of teams making the playoffs (the defunct North Central Conference had participants every year from 1975 until the league disbanded after the 2007 season). Overall, the conference has a playoff record of 80-53 for a winning percentage of 60.15%. That is good for second place behind the Gulf South conference, which has gone 121-71 in its history (including this year), and they still have two teams alive in this year’s playoffs. The MIAA’s eight National Championships also is second only to the GSC, which has eleven (the NCC also had eight in its history). Considering the relative strength of the regions that the MIAA has been in, it is certainly an impressive postseason record. Looking at how the conference has done head to head against other conferences in the playoffs, here is where the league stands (ranked in order of win pct):

Conf. Record
RMAC 4-0
PSAC 3-0
SAC 3-0
GNAC 2-0
MEC 1-0
LSC 16-3
GAC 5-1
GSC 6-5
NCC 12-17
NSIC 5-9

For whatever reason, the NSIC just seemed to have the MIAA’s number, especially NWMSU, which has four of the nine losses.

As I mentioned earlier this season, six conference teams own playoff wins as members of the MIAA (UCM, ESU, MWSU, NWMSU, PSU, and WU), with the first five of those teams all making the regional final. With the Tigers making the field this year, they joined those six and Missouri Southern as MIAA teams in the postseason tourney (along with former member Truman). UCO, NSU, and UNK have all made the playoffs as well, but did so as members of other conferences. Fort Hays is the only conference member to make the NCAA playoffs in two different leagues, as they made it twice as members of the RMAC. Lindenwood is the only current member that has not made it to the NCAA playoffs, but they did make it to the 2009 NAIA National Championship Game before they transitioned to the NCAA. Not too shabby.

MIAA Bowl Game Previews

There are four bowl games in Division II, and it just so happens that the MIAA secured a berth in all four of them this year. Here’s how I see them going down:

#20 Minnesota Duluth (9-2) vs. Central Missouri (8-3) 12PM
Mineral Water Bowl

The longest running bowl in Division II, this game has annually pitted the MIAA’s top finishing non-playoff team against the NSIC’s top finishing non-playoff team since 2000 (the lone exception being in the 2011 game, when Northeastern State was chosen to play Minnesota State the year before they officially joined the MIAA). Just like they have in the playoffs, the NSIC has given the MIAA fits in this game; even though the MIAA is 10-6 overall in this game, the NSIC has won the last three and five of the last six contests (including the aforementioned game between MSU and NSU).

The Bulldogs are probably one of the better teams in Super Region 4; after dropping two of their first three games to playoff teams, they’ve bounced back to win eight straight games, a la Harding. However, unlike the Bisons, the Bulldogs were left on the outside looking at the 8th spot as there were nine teams with less than two losses in SR4. They’ll be going up against a team that looked like they might be headed to the playoffs themselves until a lopsided loss to UCO put an end to that. This one should be a great game, as the Mules will bring the nation’s #2 ranked offense against the Bulldogs’ #3 ranked defense. UMD allows just 91 yards on the ground and 169 yards through the air; while those are impressive numbers, it bears mentioning that UMD plays in the Northern Division of the NSIC, the weaker of the two halves of the conference. Only Bemidji State and Minnesota-Moorhead rank in the top half of D2 in total offense of UMD’s Northern Division opponents. Still, UMD has played pretty tough defense historically, with last year’s playoff game against Emporia being an exception. Braxton Marstall threw for 481 yards in leading the Hornets to a 59-26 win in that game, and if Brook Bolles (who leads the country in total offense) gets it going, the Mules will be hard to stop. Getting into manageable third downs will be important, as the Bulldogs are also third in D2 in preventing 3rd down conversions.

The key in this matchup likely lies on the other side of the ball, though, as the Bulldogs have the 57th ranked offense up against the Mules 116th ranked defense. It used to be that UMD loved to ground and pound the ball, but it seems over the past few years they have opened up their air game. They still run for 166 yards per game, but that is much less than the 200+ per game they used to run for. Still, the Mules run a 3-4, and not only has it had some troubles this year, the Bulldogs have ran that formation for years now, so they will certainly know how to attack it. While they pass for a bit more than they used to and despite ranking 117th in 3rd down conversions, UMD is third in the nation in time of possession. The Bulldogs may move the ball on UCM some, but it seems UMD has a little trouble in the red zone, ranking 94th in the nation in that category.

Overall, I think the Mules offense is balanced enough that they will get their yards on the Bulldogs. They will need to make every offensive possession count to help keep their defense fresh and keep the pressure on UMD. Weather is looking pretty favorable with sunny skies and almost 60 degrees with little wind, so the game should come down to whoever makes the least amount of mistakes. The problem is, UCM has made a lot more mistakes this year than UMD has, and the Bulldogs have the nation’s second best turnover margin. Bolles, who was named as a finalist, has a chance to garner some serious Harlon Hill Trophy votes if he has a good performance against one of the best defenses in the nation. He has been pretty streaky, in that (with the exception of one game) he either throws no interceptions or he throws multiple interceptions. If the Mules are going to snap the NSIC’s streak in this game, he cannot turn the ball over. He’ll be the best QB the Bulldogs have seen all year, and with the weapons he has on offense around him, I think he does enough to win a shootout.

UMD 42
UCM 45

Tarleton State (6-5) vs Central Oklahoma (7-4) 12PM
Corsicana Bowl

While the Mineral Water Bowl is Division II’s oldest current bowl game, the Corsicana Bowl is the newest. The Inaugural version of this bowl game will match up two teams that used to be very familiar with each other, as the Bronchos used to play the Texans every year when they were members of the LSC. Both of these teams went 0-2 against the playoff teams from their respective leagues, with UCO losing by a TD to both NWMSU and FHSU and TSU losing by three to Midwestern State and by 12 to TAMU-Commerce.

Unlike the strength vs. strength game we’ll see in the MWB, this game has a large discrepancy. The Texans have one of the worst defenses in the country (143rd out of 168 teams), while the UCO offense is 20th in total yardage per game. While the Bronchos don’t mind running the ball when they can, they’ve made their bread and butter this year with the passing game, with the 13th ranked passing offense and the nation’s leading receiver in JT Luper. The Texans have the 161st ranked pass defense in D2, and with Chas Stallard being one of the more efficient passers in the Division, the Bronchos have a big advantage. One aspect that Tarleton has done well in is Red Zone defense. They are ranked 24th in Red Zone defense while the Bronchos are 20th in Red Zone offense.

Meanwhile, the Broncho defense has been playing much better during their 5 game winning streak than they did early on in the season. The Texans aren’t particularly great at running the ball, but average 237 yards per game through the air, and that has been the weakness of the Broncho defense, as they rank right behind the Texans at 162nd in passing yards allowed. The key here will be on third down. The Bronchos haven’t fared so well in stopping teams on third down, but the Texans haven’t exactly been great at moving the sticks, either. Another thing to consider is that the Texans are one of D2’s most penalized teams, while UCO ranks 40th. That should help the Bronchos on both sides of the ball.

I think this game is likely to be one of those LSC shootouts we saw so often about 8-10 years ago, which is not that much of a surprise, considering UCO’s history. UCO has been a much more physical team over the back half of the season, and if they can keep that going, they will win this game. I think they’ll be able to establish that physicality to stop the Texans a few times on defense, which will provide some opportunities for Stallard and Luper to make some plays. I see the Bronchos beating their former rivals in their home state.

UCO 52
TSU 24

Arkansas Tech (8-3) vs. Pittsburg State (7-4) 12PM
Agent Barry Live United Bowl

Like the Division II National Championship game that takes place in a city that lies on a state line, this game will take place on the Arkansas side of Texarkana. In the fifth installment of this game, we have two of the better mascots in the country going at it as the Wonder Boys take on the Gorillas. Here to help us with the Arkansas Tech side of things is former D2Football.com GAC Columnist Armo Wood:


Arkansas Tech Offense

ATU Players to Watch:

QB #12 Ty Reasnor – 2,271 passing yards, 19 passing touchdowns, 5 interceptions; 372 rushing yards and 8 rushing touchdowns
RB #25 Bryan Allen – 814 rushing yards, 8 touchdowns
RB/KR & PR #20 Braden Stringer – 755 rushing yards, 9 touchdowns; 490 kick return yards; 248 punt return yards on 12 returns, and 2 touchdowns

This year Tech’s offense is mainly a Run-Pass Option team with a bit of Zone-Read Option sprinkled in from time to time. The Wonder Boys are a team that likes to establish the run and they are very good at it, but they are comfortable slinging the ball around. Also, the Tech offense has big play potential and likes to play up tempo. Schematically, they run their offense out of multiple sets, but mainly use three receivers and a tight end or fullback.

The Wonder Boys led the GAC in scoring offense averaging 40.6 points per game and were one of the top tier total offenses averaging 434.6 yards per game. Tech’s top tier rushing attack averaged 225.4 yards a game and were led by the running back duo of Bryan Allen and Braden Stringer. Just because Allen and Stringer are the main stays of the running attack does not mean quarterback Ty Reasnor is a slouch. Reasnor is a threat to run, too, and will take off if a running lane presents itself. While they like to run Run-Pass Option and Zone-Read Option, it does not mean the Wonder Boys are afraid to go power, particularly in short yardage situations. If he’s available, expect to see running back Kristian Thompson, a 6 foot, 248 pounder who runs over people when Tech needs to pick up short yards. While running the ball is a big part of the Tech offense, they are plenty capable of airing it out. They average 209.3 passing yards per game, have scored 20 passing touchdowns and spread the ball around. The top targets are Jackob Dean (594 yards receiving and 3 touchdowns), Tevin McKenzie (478 yards and 6 touchdowns) and J.V. Davis (306 yards and 4 touchdowns)


Pittsburg State Defense

Players to Watch:

DL #92 Simanu’a Thomas, 33 tackles, 8.0 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT (22 yd return for TD)
S #43 Morgan Selemaea, 36 tackles, 9.0 TFLs, 8.0 sacks, 1 INT, 3FFs, 1 FR

The Gorilla defense had some troubles early on in the season, allowing over 350 yards to each of their first six opponents. After they lost their third game in a row to fall to 2-4 against Fort Hays, the Gorillas (along with UCO) have been the hottest team in the MIAA not named the Tigers. A big part of that has been the play of the defense, which has risen from #10 in the MIAA after the FHSU game all the way to #3 at the conclusion of the regular season. The unit allowed 338ypg on the season (49th in D2), but has only allowed more than that average one time during the win streak (ESU gained 344 yards). While they’ve been helped by a clock-killing philosophy on offense that began in the Washburn game, there is no question that they have clamped down on this side of the ball, particularly on third and fourth down. Selemaea is just a freshman, but earned the starting job for the last three weeks of the season, and was twice honored with MIAA Defensive POW honors. The Wonder Boys will be the best offense they’ve seen since Emporia, which is ironic, given that is where Reasnor transferred from. He’ll be looking to improve from the last time he started against PSU, when he went 9 for 19 for 103 yards and an INT in a 45-17 loss in the Jungle in 2014. The Gorillas will do everything they can to force him to beat them through the air. If they are successful in winning on first and second down, their chances at a win are much greater.


Arkansas Tech Defense

ATU Players to Watch:

LB #40 KJ Reid – 102 tackles, 9 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 4 pass break ups, 5 fumble recoveries
R #8 Cua’ Rose – 76 tackles, 5 interceptions, 8 pass break ups

Tech’s base defense is a 4-2-5. Teams have had some success with the occasional big play or even moving the ball between the twenties. However, when an opponent gets near the red zone the Wonder Boys defense tends to batten down the hatches and get stingy. The stats bear out that Tech is a typical bend-but-don’t-break type of defense giving up 351 yards a game (190.5 pass ypg and 160.5 rush ypg), but only yielding 18.3 points per game. The defense is physical, stingy, and has a decent pass rush (24 sacks, 13 quarterback hurries).


Pittsburg State Offense

PSU Players to Watch:

QB #10 Thomas LePage--926 yards passing 10TDs, 3INTs, 55.3%, 250 rush yards, 1TD
RB #30 Michael Rose--1003 rush yards, 6TDs, 5.09ypc
WR #17 Austin Panko--30 catches, 484yds, 5TDs, 139 rush yards 6.32ypc

Historically, offense has not been a problem at Pittsburg State. However, this year’s unit ranked 8th in the MIAA at just 377 yards per game, right behind another traditional offensive powerhouse that struggled this year (NWMSU). As I mentioned before, starting with the Washburn game, the Gorillas scrapped what they had been doing on offense and went to a predominantly run-first attack. Now, to be fair, they have almost always been a run-first team (with the exception of the Anthony Abenoja years), but they have really been run heavy since week 5, throwing the ball less than 22 times in every game save for the battle against FHSU. LePage, who had been the backup to John Roderique for most of the last three years and starting games when JRod was injured, has earned the starting nod the past three games, largely due to outplaying Roderique this season. Rose finished second in the league in rushing, and Panko is the primary threat to move the chains if the Gorillas go to the air. The Wonder Boys gave up 311 yards rushing to Harding in the season finale and got knocked out of the playoffs in the process. While the Gorillas aren’t going to be running the triple option (although they have sprinkled some option in here and there during their streak), Tim Beck is very good at coming up with a game plan for his offense to move the ball. As Armo said, the tough part may be finishing those drives. If they don’t, though, the Gorillas have a very good kicker in Jared Vincent, who has only missed two of his 16 field goals this season.


I think Pitt fans will recall that in 2014 I warned them that Harding was a much better team than they thought and would likely test the Gorillas. I think the same with Arkansas Tech. The Wonder Boys offense is not only a good running attack, but are very capable of passing and scoring quickly when needed. I believe Tech’s offense can move the ball consistently against Pitt’s defense. If Tech’s offensive line can control the line of scrimmage enough that Pitt is forced to bring the linebackers to get pressure, Tech will hit them over the top for big gains. If the Gorillas drop their linebackers back into coverage, the Wonder Boys will hit them with four to five yard runs. For Pitt to have any chance at disrupting Tech’s offense, they will need to be able to consistently get Tech behind the chains and consistently pressure Reasnor with their defensive front. Having said all of that, the Wonder Boys have shown a tendency at times to fall into a bit of a funk with their offensive execution. If Tech gets forced into a mistake or turnover-fueled rut, they can be stopped, as Ouachita and Harding proved earlier this season.

On the flip side, Tech’s defense can get after an offense. Pitt will have to utilize a little bit of play action to help open things up. If the Gorillas try to only run the ball, they likely will not have enough success to win. Tech is aggressive at the point of attack against the run and usually does a good job of getting consistent pressure in the pass game with their defensive front. Now I know some will look at the pass defense stat, the sacks and quarterback hurry stats, and conclude Tech is solid in that phase of the defense. They will then look at the run defense stat and suggest that a defense giving up 160.5 rushing yards per game as is not very good at stopping the run, maybe solid at best on a good day, and Pitt should have a good day running the ball. Two notes of caution. First, Ouachita and Northwestern Oklahoma were the second and third best rushing offenses in the GAC this year. Each averaged around 227 rushing yards per game on the season. Tech held Ouachita to just 184 yards on the ground and held Northwestern Oklahoma to just 158 yards and no rushing touchdowns. When a defense holds a running team below 200 yards rushing, most times that is a win, especially if they keep them out of the end zone. Second, Tech’s run defense was below 150 yards per game until the last game of the season when they played Harding. I don’t think I need to remind Pitt fans what typically happens to a team’s run defense stat when they play Harding. Bottom line, Tech is good at slowing down rushing attacks.

Pitt ended their season with five straight wins, and Tech ended their season with a heartbreaking loss to their rival Harding. The Wonder Boys have had time to regroup after their loss and unlike the playoffs where teams have only a week to prepare, bowl game teams have closer to a month to prepare. If it becomes a slugfest, then the kicking and return games will become crucial for field position. While both teams are neck and neck in many of those areas, Tech does have a slightly wider margin in the punt return game and that could be critical. I expect both offenses to move the ball well between the twenties, however, I expect both defenses to tighten up around the red zones. In the end, I think two things will determine the outcome of this game: field position and which team takes advantage of scoring opportunities with touchdowns.

I have gone back and forth on who I think comes away with the win in this game. I really like Tech to make this tougher than some Pitt fans may expect. While the Gorillas are on a five game winning streak and the Wonder Boys have struggled in some big games since about mid-season, Texarkana should give Tech a home away from home type advantage. Add in that Tech has had time to regroup and prepare for Pitt, I’m going to go with Tech in a tight, hard fought game.

Armo’ s Pick: Arkansas Tech, 28-27.


Halfway through the season, I thought the Gorillas would be lucky to win more than two games the rest of the way….instead, they’ve won them all, including stopping NWMSU’s 38 game winning streak. And to be honest, they have won most of those games with very little drama. Sure, the Bearcats had a couple chances at stealing the game back in the 4th quarter, but in the end, the Gorillas didn’t let them. While it is certainly possible that the Gorillas are due for a let down, I’m not so sure. The energy of this team has seen a complete 180 after their loss to Washburn. They ended up losing the game to the Tigers, but the Gorillas jumped out to a 17-0 lead before FHSU was able to get the win. Since allowing the final 21 points to the Tigers in that game, no team has scored more than 13 points on the PSU defense. The Gorillas also have a bit of history on their side in that they have never lost a bowl game, winning all three of their Mineral Water Bowl appearances, including the 90-28 pasting they bestowed upon Southwest Minnesota State in 2013. The Gorillas don’t have the offense to put up even half of that against the Wonder Boys, but they have enough to keep the ball away from the ATU offense. With the Wonder Boys using a high tempo when they have the ball, they are going to need to produce points; if they don’t, the ATU defense is going to have problems after being on the field too much. The ATU philosophy on offense plays right into the philosophy of the PSU offense in terms of TOP, and because of that, I see the Gorillas wearing the Wonder Boys down winning what should be a virtual road game.

PSU 24
ATU 17

Angelo State (6-4) vs. Washburn (6-5) 6PM
C.H.A.M.P.S. Heart of Texas Bowl

These two teams finished on opposite trajectories at the end of the regular season. The Rams of Angelo State (led by former NWMSU Assistant Coach Will Wagner) won their last three games, including a 51-3 drubbing of West Texas A&M in the second to last game. Meanwhile, the Ichabods limped to a 6-5 record by losing four of their last five, including a loss to Emporia in the season finale. Despite the two teams having the same record, the Ichabods were invited to play in the bowl game, while the Hornets were left out of the postseason for the first time since 2014.

The Rams boast one of the best offenses in D2 (6th in the country), and are especially adept in the passing game, averaging 326.4 ypg through the air. That isn’t good news for a Washburn unit that ranks 127th in passing yards allowed and 124th in pass efficiency defense. The Rams also run the ball decently, averaging 176 yards per game (56th), and the Ichabods have had some issues there, too, allowing 174 yards per game (102nd in D2). Washburn has a physical defensive line, but the back half of the defense has been inconsistent.

If you look at the numbers, the Rams are in the top 50 in total defense and rushing defense in the country, which is a bit better than what we saw back when the LSC and MIAA were in the same Super Region. They also rank 33rd in D2 in scoring defense, allowing just 20.6 points a game. Again, that certainly is much better than what we saw a few years ago. Then again, considering Wagner coached with Rich Wright under Scott Bostwick, maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Washburn tries to win every game at the line of scrimmage. However, there have been a few games in the MIAA this year where that wasn’t enough. In fact, the only team Washburn beat that finished with a winning record was PSU, and if the two teams played again today, I’d pick the Gorillas to win comfortably. Overall, I think this is a bad matchup for the Ichabods, and with Angelo State just three hours away from Copperas Cove (the site of the game), the deck is certainly stacked in the Rams’ favor. While Ichabod Head Coach Craig Shurig is 2-2 vs. LSC teams in his tenure in Topeka, I think he drops below .500.

WU 21
ASU 34

(Last Week: 1-0)
(Season: 56-12)

As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post below. You can also follow me on Twitter @IanD2FMIAA.

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  1. GorillaBred's Avatar
    One slight correction on PSU in bowl games. We do have bowl game losses to NEMSU in 1980 and to CMSU in 1950. Both were games where PSU held leads going into the 4th quarters, only to lose them down the stretch.