BY MAKENNA ALLEN
PHOTOS BY ALLISON SCHWEIZER
Following back-to-back MIAA Conference Championship titles, the 2019 football season is over for the Tigers without a trip to the playoffs. Following a landslide victory over Northeastern State University, the Tigers went 8-3 for the season. However, the victory was not enough to balance three key losses. Though the team must give up its hopes of another season at the top of the conference, this year’s group proved to be a record-breaking team.
Much of the record-shattering took place last weekend in Talequah, Ok.. In what was nearly a shutout, the Tigers defeated the Riverhawks 91-7. With this margin of victory, the Tigers obliterated the single-game scoring record of 66-points that they set earlier in the season against Lincoln. This excess of points also pushed the team to 455 total points for the season, a high that surpassed the record of 446-points set by the 1995 football team. Perhaps what is even more impressive about this statistic is that this year’s team accomplished the record in just 11 games, compared to the 12 required by the 1995 team. With this game, the 2019 team also beat out another record set in 1995 when it came to average points scored per game (41.4-points).
A good portion of the success can be attributed to this year’s senior class that is the winningest class in FHSU Division II program history. This year, the team plans to graduate a long list of seniors that can be found below. Among these seniors are several that have made program history with records of their own.
First among the list of history-making seniors is wide receiver, Harley Hazlett. Earlier in the season, Hazlett broke the record for career receptions formerly held by Eric Busenbark. Hazlett wraps up his play with the Tigers with a total of 184-receptions. Notably, wide receiver, Layne Bieberle, tied Busenbark’s record with 168 career receptions.
Additionally, both Hazlett and Bieberle joined the elite list of fewer than 10 Tigers to surpass 2,000 all-time receiving yards. Bieberle concludes his career sitting second in program history with 2,625-yards.
These offensive players are not the only components of this Tiger team to mark down records. In fact, kicker, Dante Brown, created a name for himself during his two seasons serving as placekicker in Hays. In just two years, Brown racked up 232-points. He was the only Tiger to score more than 100-points per season and he did so for two years consecutively. Brown was also named the 2018 Don Hansen Division II Special Teams Player of the Year.
The 2019 Tiger defense will also be remembered among program history thanks to defensive back, Tanner Hoekman, who complied 294 tackles to sit at No. 6 in the NCAA Division II era.
Though these talented players and many others will no longer take the field on game day, the team is still ripe with the potential of developing players. This list of younger Tigers begins with the team’s own quarterback, Chance Fuller. In his first year as the starting quarterback of the Fort Hays team, the sophomore from Arlington, Tx. took his place among the best in school history. After his game against Northeastern State last weekend, Fuller now holds the record for single-season touchdown passes with 35. Throughout the season, he completed a total of 3,344 passing yards, a figure that ranks fourth at Fort Hays and fifth nationally. His 258 completions are second most in the years of the program’s existence. What’s more, head coach, Chris Brown, suggests that Fuller has yet to fully mature as a player.
Under Fuller’s leadership, returning players that were leaders on the field this season may have a chance to shine even brighter.
This season, the offense found the majority of its success in senior players like Hazlett, Bieberle, and running back, Charles Tigner. These three individuals rounded out the top of the Tiger offense when it came to all-purpose yards. However, redshirt freshman running back, Te’Corey Tutson, took his place among the top with 846 all-purpose yards. He was followed closely by wide receiver, Manny Ramsey. Ramsey had 808 all-purpose yards and became one of Fuller’s main receiving targets later in the season.
When it came to the offensive line, senior defensive lineman, Sheldon Schmidt, led the team in both sacks and fumble recoveries. However, Schmidt’s statistic of four sacks this season was followed by junior defensive lineman, Sterling Swopes’, figure of 3.5.
The potential for next year’s team doesn’t end there, either. This season, junior linebacker and transfer from the University of Kansas, Drew Harvey, led the team with 88 tackles. He also had the greatest number of tackles for loss. Also among the top of the defense was sophomore, Jordan Starks, who recorded 78-tackles over the course of the season.
Another noteworthy addition to the Tiger team was freshman punter, Benjamin Donald, who managed a 72-yard punt during the game against Northwest Missouri State University.
As these Tigers look towards improvement next season, there are some key losses that provide an area for reflection. Indeed, the first two games of the season that left the Tigers 0-2 created a fragile foundation upon which to build a playoff-winning season. The tight 34-30 loss to the University of Central Missouri during the first week of the season may not have spelled disaster for the Tigers. However, the Tigers’ second consecutive loss to Missouri Western State University dug a deep hole early in the season.
Despite their initial 0-2 record, the Tigers were able to battle back with seven straight victories, a feat which Brown suggested was not an easy one. Stiff competition within the MIAA, however, left the Fort Hays team with a crucial battle looming on the horizon: Northwest Missouri State. In the 2019 season’s final home game, the Tigers fought until the end of a double-overtime nail-biter but came up short 36-33.
This loss to the superpower Bearcats proved to be the nail in the coffin of the Tigers’ playoff dreams. Unfortunately for the team, the necessary shake-ups to pave the way for the Tigers to enter the top seven of the NCAA Division II Super Region Three Rankings had happened. All that remained to grasp hold of the playoff opportunity was the defeat of the Bearcats.
Though there was likely no single cause linking the three losses, next year’s Tiger football players will likely learn an essential lesson from the defeats. Throughout the season, Brown emphasized the fact that it is never too early to start playing tough. Brown recalled the fact that his team did not live up to their potential physicality until several games into the season: several games that included the first two losses.
Had the Tigers been able unite in their Brown’s goal for his players earlier in the season, the super region rankings for playoffs could tell a different story. However, hindsight is always 20-20. The present, rather, is the time to learn from past mistakes and to look towards a bright Tiger football future. Now is the time to get ready for Tiger football 2020.
List of Graduating Seniors:
DJ Hickman (#4, running back)
Layne Bieberle (#9, wide receiver)
Hayden Kreutzer (#13, defensive back)
Kyler Kinnamon (#16, wide receiver)
Andrew Jay (#18, wide receiver)
Charles Tigner (#23, running back)
Kolt Trachsel (#32, linebacker)
Matt Wendleberger (#33, tight end)
Tanner Hoekman (#34, defensive back)
Dante Brown (#40, kicker/punter)
Nathan Hale (#54, offensive lineman)
Dandre Reed (#80, wide receiver)
Harley Hazlett (#87, wide receiver)
Chris Flowers (#91, defensive lineman)
Sheldon Schmidt (#92, defensive lineman)
Kiel Simas (#93, defensive lineman)
Ramon Coral (#79, offensive lineman)