No. 3 Bearcats too much for Tigers
By CONOR NICHOLL
Coach Chris Brown was upbeat in the postgame media room Saturday night. The Fort Hays State University offense collected 365 yards, easily the highest for the Tigers this season. FHSU played with Northwest Missouri State University, the No. 3 team in NCAA Division II, even in the second half. Senior linebacker Shane Smith called the performance one of Tigers’ “more physical” contests. Senior running back Andre Smith rushed for a game-high 107 yards.
However, three fumbles, a blocked field goal and some big plays early yielded a 49-14 Tiger loss in the annual TailGreat game at Lewis Field Stadium. Two fumbles set up for short fields and scores for the Bearcats.
“We are getting better,” Brown said. “I see us progressively getting better, little by little. I am proud of our kids. They kept fighting. They kept working. If they continue to do that, these kids are going to win some ball games.”
Fort Hays dropped to 0-3, 0-3 MIAA, while Northwest Missouri moved to 3-0, 3-0 MIAA. FHSU has lost 10 straight to the Bearcats, eight in a row in the Tigers’ MIAA era.
“We figured they would come in here, thinking that they were No. 3, that it was just going to be a cakewalk,” senior linebacker Shane Smith said. “We came out, we were 0-2, we had nothing to lose. We came out and give it our all.”
Late in the first quarter, senior Tanner Hageman hauled in a 40-yard pass and had his facemask pulled, Brown said – but no flag – and fumbled at the Northwest 20-yard line.
The Bearcats also turned the turnover into points for a 21-0 lead. It marked Hageman’s first career fumble in 51 career catches and 21 games.
“Little bit of ball security,” Brown said. “He had it out a little bit wide. On that one, he did get face masked. His head got turned, and the kid just punched it underneath. His head got turned pretty good and the arm came out.”
Outside of a turnover on a punt, the Bearcats played a near-flawless game, rolled up 519 yards and led 42-7 at halftime.
“You can’t give them the short field,” Brown said. “If you give them a short field, they are going to score points. Very good football team. There is a reason they are No. 3 in the country, and you can see why. They do things very well on offense. They do things very well on defense, and they are strong, powerful and quick.”
Sophomore quarterback Treveon Albert finished 14 of 22 for 158 yards and rushed seven times for 39 yards and a TD before he left the game with 7 minutes, 23 seconds left in the third quarter with cramping.
After Albert threw six interceptions in the first two contests, including several on long throws, the coaches stressed playing within the system and not forcing.
Senior defensive lineman Basil Bandy had a sling on his arm after the game from a stinger. Bandy suffered the injury on the game’s first play from scrimmage, but did play some snaps later.
“When he did that and played within our system, he played very well,” Brown said. “He is maturing, and he is getting better as a quarterback each week, and he is going to continue to get better.”
Northwest Missouri opened the game with a punt. Last year, the Bearcats scored on its first six drives, including four touchdowns, in a 48-10 loss to NWMSU. After a Tiger punt, Northwest Missouri scored on two straight possessions for a 14-0 lead. Hageman’s catch would have put FHSU deep into Bearcat territory. Instead, Northwest Missouri scored on a 40-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Brady Bolles to a wide-open junior Ruben Thomas for a 21-0 lead.
Bolles and senior Trevor Adams again split time under center. They combined to go 19 of 27 for 237 yards and three scores.
“We kind of expected Bolles to run a little bit more, because he is a little more versatile,” junior safety Michael Jordan said. “But at the end of the day, it just comes down to just reading your keys.”
Fort Hays moved the score to 21-7 on a 3-yard run from Albert. Smith set up the score with a 35-yard run, easily the longest Tiger run of the year.
“Our offensive line came to play,” Smith said. “You’ve got to be excited to play the No. 3 team. You want to see what they are about.”
Then, Northwest responded with 28 unanswered points. The first score came on a 33-yard pass from Adams to junior Bryce Young on a play-action pass. Young was behind the Tiger defense when he hauled in the score.
“It all comes down to us being disciplined,” Jordan said. “That can’t happen. We’ve just got to be disciplined and stay back. That’s our job.”
Two of the next three scores came from fumbles. Redshirt freshman Evan Jennings fumbled on a kickoff at the Tiger 17. In the third quarter, senior wideout Keaton Callins lost the ball at the Tiger 25. Brown said Callins might have been down; Jennings simply didn’t keep the ball tight. Even with the miscues, Brown was pleased.
“We are moving the ball, we are doing some good things,” Brown said. “We’ve just got to convert on third downs on a few of those situations, and we’ve just got to put some points on the board and finish drives. We are getting close. We are so close to making things happen. I see it coming and I am very proud of these kids right now.”