BY CAYDEN SANDERS
In both the 2017 and 2018 football season, the matchup between Fort Hays State and Northwest Missouri State determined who would be crowned the MIAA regular season champion. In 2019, the game between FHSU and NWMSU was a double-overtime barnburner in the second-to-last game of the season. Then, after a season canceled due to COVID, the Tigers and Bearcats resumed their yearly battles in 2021, this time to open the season in Hays – resulting in a narrow victory for NWMSU.
To start the 2022 season, FHSU made the trek back east to Bearcat stadium to play the perennial power – ranked #2 to start the year. However, unlike the last four games between the two teams where the road team came out on top, the Tigers were unable to keep the road-winning trend alive, losing 33-19 on Thursday.
“We knew coming into the game what we were coming into with Fort Hays,” Bearcat Head Coach Rich Wright said. “They are a hard-nose-play-to-the-whistle team; they will be physical all game long.”
After keeping it close through the first half, the third quarter was FHSU’s undoing. The Bearcats led the Tigers 20-12 at the break, but the Tigers were unable to score through the entire third period.
With 8:45 to go in the third quarter, Mike Hohensee led the Bearcats to a scoring drive with a pass to Trevon Alexander for a 16-yard touchdown reception to put the Bearcats up 26-12.
Fort Hays did not get a first down on the ensuing possession, giving the Bearcats the ball. On their next drive, the Bearcats dwindled the clock out and socred with 5:05 left in the quarter. Running back Kevin Dominique punched the ball into the endzone, driving the lead to 33-12.
One bright spot in the third quarter for FHSU was Chance Fuller breaking another school record. Fuller is now alone atop the FHSU all-time passing yards list above his predecessor, Jacob Mezera. Fuller needed 115 yards to pass Mezera; Fuller ended the game with 309 yards giving him 7,991 yards in his career.
FHSU scored once more in the fourth quarter on a Fuller touchdown pass to tight end Hunter Budke, who collected his second touchdown reception of the game.
FHSU had the ball first to start the game. On the kickoff return, a penalty was called on the Tigers, bringing the ball back from midfield to the 20-yard line. Two more penalties in the first drive cost the Tigers. However, the Fort Hays offense still heated up and found a groove, but Ja’Quan Tillis fumbled the football, giving Northwest prime real estate at the Tigers 42-yard line.
Northwest took advantage and scored first in the game with just 4:10 coming off of the clock.
FHSU also struggled to get the running game started, finishing with just 13 yards from scrimmage on the ground.
“Here at Northwest, we pride ourselves on forcing a team one-dimensional. If that’s taking a team’s run game away, then we will take that away.” Wright said.
The Tigers answered back to the Bearcat’s score with an Emannuel Aguilar field goal. In the second quarter, the Tigers missed an excellent opportunity for a touchdown, as Hayden Wiltfong had a wide-open uncontested catch that led him to the endzone. The ball hit his helmet, forcing the Tigers to go for another field goal.
FHSU did take the lead in the second quarter on Budke’s first touchdown reception of the night, but right before the end of the first half, the Bearcats scored another touchdown and tacked on a field goal after a second Tiger fumble.
“I was proud of our guys tonight, we are a young team, but we fought our way through the entire night,” FHSU Head Coach Chris Brown said. “I know we are a good team, and we need to not create so many mistakes; if the mistakes don’t happen tonight, this would be a different outcome.”
While the game was significant for the conference, the league commissioner Mike Racey made a showing at the game to watch the opening night of football.
“It is such a great time for college athletics, we just started the school year and all of our sports are in full swing,” Racey told TMN. “Getting to watch out student-athletes perform and see the atmosphere within campuses is great to watch first hand.”
Next week the Tigers take on Missouri Western State. The game is set for 7 p.m. on Thursday at Lewis Field Stadium.