STORY BY TRISTAN SASSE
PHOTOS BY MARISSA CASTANOS
After securing the first MIAA championship in program history, the No. 5 Fort Hays State University Tiger football team was back in action against the Nebraska-Kearney Lopers on Saturday. Already off to their best start in school history, the No. 5 Tigers improved to 11-0 Saturday, with a 41-7 victory over UNK on Senior Day. FHSU now has six straight wins over UNK.
Head Coach Chris Brown had high praise for his team, especially the seniors.
“Hats off to these seniors. They’ve really done a great job these last four or five years of really buying into what we’re doing and what we’re trying to accomplish,” said Brown. “All that hard work and dedication they put in shows on the field.”
By the Numbers
The Tigers continued to shine on both sides of the ball. It was the ninth time in eleven games FHSU scored over 30 points this season. Head Coach Chris Brown improved to 33-2 when the Tigers score at least 30 points.
Also, Brandon Brown now has 91 kicking points on the season, breaking his school record of 88 points set a season ago.
Offensively, the Tigers racked up 450 yards of offense (245 passing, 205 rushing).
Layne Bieberle finished with eight receptions for 105 yards. Bieberle now has three 100-yard receiving games in his career. Kenneth Iheme had 100 rushing yards on the afternoon. It was the eighth time Iheme rushed for at least 100 yards in his career. He also has 100 or more rushing yards in six of his last seven games.
Defensively, the Tigers forced three first half turnovers (2 fumble recoveries and 1 interception) to set the tone. The Fort Hays defense gave up 300 yards of offense to UNK, but was able to hold them to seven points and create three turnovers.
Jose Delgado, Tanner Hoekman, and Connor Shedeed each had seven tackles for the Tigers.
The Tigers played a clean game with no turnovers and one total penalty.
On Saturday, it didn’t take the Tigers long to strike first. The senior running back Iheme gave FHSU an early lead with a 2-yard rushing touchdown. UNK marched down the field on the ensuing drive, but fumbled deep in Tiger territory. Later, Brown connected on a 36-yard field goal with 2:56 left in the opening quarter.
Brown began the second quarter with his second field goal on the afternoon, this time from 35-yards. The Tigers forced another turnover midway through the second quarter with a strip sack by Sterling Swopes. Shortly after, Jacob Mezera found Harley Hazlett on a 1-yard shovel pass to give the Tigers a 20-0 lead. The Tiger defense stopped the Lopers on fourth down near the end of the quarter. Hoekman ended the first half with a 33-yard pick-six and FHSU went into halftime leading 27-0.
Fort Hays outgained the Lopers by just 23 yards in the first half, but three UNK turnovers proved to be crucial. Sophomore defensive back Hoekman was pleased with the performance on defense.
“We definitely came out with a chip on our shoulder,” said Hoekman. “We wanted to come out and just dominate, just show who the undefeated team really is, and just show our dominance in the conference. I feel like we showed that today.”
Matt Wendelberger added onto the Tiger scoring barrage midway through the third quarter with a 3-yard touchdown reception. Nebraska-Kearney’s Steve Worthing answered with a 3-yard touchdown run to end the shutout. Entering the final quarter, FHSU led 34-7.
Isaiah Blackmon extended the Tiger lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter, with a 1-yard rushing touchdown. Blackmon’s touchdown would be the final score, as the Tigers went on to win 41-7.
The Tigers will now await their seeding in the NCAA national tournament, which will be announced tomorrow afternoon. If FHSU earns a No. 1 seed, they will receive a bye in the first round and resume play on November 25.
Coach Brown showed confidence looking ahead.
“Week in and week out these guys have broken records. They’re a part of history,” said Brown. “Hopefully we keep making history. Get in the playoffs, win these playoff games, and hopefully get to the big one.”