BY LAURYN BECKER
PHOTOS BY JESS KIRCHHOFF
Since the fall of 2019, fans of Fort Hays State University football have long missed cool autumn nights cheering on the Tigers.
On Thursday night, the 656-day wait was finally over; FHSU football was back.
The Tigers played host to the Bearcats of Northwest Missouri State; a rivalry dating back to the 1950s. The Bearcats, currently ranked #4 in the nation, came prepared to give the Tigers a run for their money on their home turf. NWMSU ultimately prevailed 15-7 in a low-scoring game.
Though the Tigers may have lost, Head Coach Chris Brown encouraged players and fans not to hang their heads on this one.
“A lot of these guys, you look across the board, they haven’t played very much football for Fort Hays State University, and sometimes this is their first time stepping on the field, and I thought they performed well. They’re gonna get better as the weeks go on,” Brown said.
Before the game began, the Tigers won the coin toss, but chose to defer until the second half. Fernando Avila-Castro kicked off for the Tigers, and from there began the game-long back-and-forth battle between the two teams.
After a few minutes of the Tiger defense putting the pressure on the Bearcats, the Bearcats punted to the FHSU deep in their own territory, which ultimately resulted in a safety against Fort Hays.
The Tigers answered with some very strong plays, but no touchdowns throughout the first quarter. The Bearcats continued to push up against the Tigers, scoring another touchdown to put up nine unanswered points in the first quarter.
The defense was a key component for the Tigers throughout much of the second quarter, and game as well. As the Bearcats continued to gain momentum, the Tigers made a monumental play that shifted the energy of the game; a quarterback sack made by defensive lineman Dalton Kuhn and linebacker Layke Heimerman.
The Tigers continued to press on through the second quarter but were not able to make it to the end zone. At the half, the Tigers knew they had an uphill battle ahead of them for the rest of the game as the Bearcats led 9-0.
The third quarter started off well for the Tigers; a big tackle made by defensive back Jordan Starks helped kickoff the energy for FHSU. In the middle of the third quarter, quarterback Chance Fuller threw to wide receiver Montario Burchfield on third down, which resulted in a big gain for the Tigers as the Bearcats caught a 15-yard facemask penalty that set the Tiger offense up for success. As the Tigers were looking for the endzone on a fourth-down, Fuller threw to running back Adrian Soto, who ran it in for a Tiger touchdown.
The Bearcats tried to answer the Tigers’ touchdown but fell short in an exciting play as the ball was fumbled and picked up by the Tiger defense on a 4th and 1. The Tigers ended the third quarter with the ball and started the fourth with the ball as well.
Through much of the back and forth in the fourth quarter, the Bearcats answered the Tigers’ third-quarter touchdown and score one of their own that ended up in a penalty for unsportsmanlike contact that set their point-after-touchdown back 15 yards.
As the Bearcats released the kick, it was blocked by Tiger defensive back Jhimon Preston and then picked up. Unfortunately for FHSU, this resulted in the final drive of the game for the Tigers, who ultimately were not able to throw it in for another touchdown.
Although the outcome wasn’t what players or fans of Tiger Nation may have wished, everyone can agree that it was a sigh of relief to finally be back on the field and to have football again, something that players and fans alike have greatly missed in the last two years.
“These kids have been working so hard, and I knew they were excited to play the game of football again, and that’s something that’s kind of taken for granted when it isn’t there, and you know, that’s what I live on, that’s my life,” Brown said. “My job is football, and when we don’t have it, something’s missing. It was an amazing feeling to be on the field again and playing again, and what a tremendous crowd we had today. Thank you for their support through the entire game, the atmosphere was amazing.”
The Tigers will be back in action on the road against Missouri Western on September 9, and then will be back at Lewis Field against Lincoln on September 18. For more information and coverage on Tiger Football, stay tuned to Tiger Media Network.