Tigers keep MIAA title hopes alive with win over No. 10 Bearcats

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MARYVILLE, Mo. (FHSU) - For the second straight year, Fort Hays State played the role of spoiler to Northwest Missouri State as it claimed a 17-16 win over the Bearcats. Also for the second straight year, the Tigers defeated the Bearcats in Maryville by one point after a 13-12 win last year to claim the MIAA title. Now one week remains on the schedule and the Tigers and Bearcats sit in a tie for the MIAA lead at 8-2, so the Tigers will play for at least a share of the title next week in Hays when they host Northeastern State.

The Tiger defense stood tall throughout the game, holding a potent Bearcat offense in check to just 178 yards on 57 plays. That was well under the Bearcats' season average of 449.1 yards per game. Fort Hays held Northwest Missouri without a first down for the first 25 minutes of the game. The Bearcats had only one first down in the first half, coming at the 5:00 mark of the second quarter. For the game, the Bearcats generated only 10 first downs.

The Tigers opened the scoring at the 6:51 mark of the first quarter when Chance Fuller found Harley Hazlett over the middle for a five-yard touchdown. It finished an 8-play, 54-yard drive to put the Tigers up 7-0. The lead grew to 14-0 later in the quarter at the 1:17 mark when Layne Bieberle made a tremendous diving catch along the left sideline in the endzone on a 25-yard pass from Fuller.

While the offense staked the Tigers to the early lead, the Tiger defense forced the Bearcats to 3-and-outs on their first seven possessions of the game. The seventh 3-and-out, however, produced points as a Bearcat interception at the FHSU 33-yard line went to the 13-yard line on a 20-yard return. The Bearcats settled for a 25-yard field goal to make the score 14-3 at the 8:27 mark of the second quarter.

Another Tiger mistake, this time on punt return coverage, gave the Bearcats' their first touchdown of the game. NWMSU's Shawn Bane returned a punt 56 yards for the score, all of the sudden leaving FHSU in the lead by just four, 14-10, with 1:52 remaining before halftime. Even though the Bearcats produced just 31 yards of total offense in the first half, they still found a way to score 10 points.

The Bearcats kept their momentum early in the second half, marching 78 yards quickly on just six plays for their second touchdown of the game. Braden Wright found Alec Tatum on a 19-yard touchdown pass to push the Bearcats into the lead for the first time. Fortunately, Malik Young came up big for the Tigers by blocking the extra-point attempt. That would turn out to be a decisive play later on.

The Tigers took their first drive of the second half 49 yards to the NWMSU 25-yard line, where Dante Brown stepped up once again like he has all season long. He converted a 42-yard field goal at the 9:08 mark of the third quarter that turned out to be the game-winning score.

Northwest Missouri pushed the ball into Tiger territory on two of its next three possessions. However, the Bearcats could not push the ball past the FHSU 41-yard line. An open field tackle by Jose Delgado with 8:14 remaining in the game stopped the Bearcats short of a first down on 4th-and-1. The Bearcats saw their final possession start with 4:10 remaining at their own 10-yard line. The Tiger defense produced another 3-and-out when Sterling Swopes dropped Josh Caldwell for a four-yard loss.

The Bearcats looked as though they would get the ball back with about a minute and a half remaining, but a roughing the kicker penalty occurred when Dante Brown punted the ball away. The Tigers retained possession and the Bearcats had no timeouts remaining. FHSU ran out the clock to win the game, 17-16.

Fuller finished with 240 passing yards, completing 22-of-35 attempts. Hazlett finished with 121 receiving yards on 13 catches, while also running the ball three times for six yards. Bieberle finished with 71 receiving yards on four catches. D.J. Hickman led the Tigers in rushing yards with 19 on seven carries. Delgado led the Tigers in tackles with 10.

Wright led the Northwest Missouri offense with 117 passing yards, while running for 13. Isaiah Strayhorn led the Bearcats in rushing with 35 yards. Marqus Andrews led NWMSU in receiving with 50 yards. Austen Eskew led the Bearcats in tackles with 10.

The Tigers have a chance for a second straight MIAA Championship when they host Northeastern State in Hays next Saturday (Nov. 10). Kickoff is set for 2 pm. A win would give the Tigers at least a share of the conference title. Northwest Missouri State is also looking for at least a share of the title if it can pick up a win at Central Missouri.