HAYS — Fort Hays State completed an undefeated regular season on Saturday (Nov. 11) by defeating long-time rival Nebraska-Kearney 41-7 on Senior Day at Lewis Field Stadium. The Tigers moved to 11-0 overall, while the Lopers finished their season at 3-8. Fort Hays State will now await the announcement of seeding for the NCAA Playoffs on Sunday afternoon at 4 pm.
The top six teams in Super Region 3 all won on Saturday. Fort Hays State, currently the top ranked team in the region, and Indianapolis, the No. 2 ranked team, both finished the regular season 11-0. The regional committee will now have to make a decision which team gets the No. 1 seed in the region. FHSU has been No. 1 two weeks in a row.
Fort Hays State set the tone early when Trae Regier took the opening kickoff 50 yards to the Nebraska-Kearney 39. Nine plays later Kenneth Iheme punched the ball in the endzone on a two-yard run. FHSU led 7-0 after the first 3:53 of the game.
Nebraska-Kearney quickly got into scoring position with a 52-yard pass, taking the ball down to the FHSU 13. But quarterback Steve Worthing coughed up the ball on the next play on a rush around the right end and FHSU recovered. UNK was unable to push the ball into Tiger territory over its next four drives. In the meantime, the Tigers were able to get a pair of field goals from 36 and 35 yards from Brandon Brown, making the score 13-0 just 15 seconds into the second quarter.
The Tigers took advantage of a fumble forced by Sterling Swopes on a sack that Sheldon Schmidt fell on at the UNK 24. It set up a short field and four plays later, Harley Hazlett took a shovel pass from Jacob Mezera into the endzone from a yard out to push the Tiger lead to 20-0 at the 7:25 mark of the second quarter.
Nebraska-Kearney put together a long drive following the Hazlett touchdown and marched all the way to the FHSU 7 yardline. But, the Lopers gambled on 4th-and-2 and Worthing was dropped on a rush for no gain by Nathan Shepherd and Sterling Swopes. The Tigers took over on downs. UNK gambled one more time after getting the ball back with 41 seconds remaining in the first half. On the first play of the drive, Worthing was intercepted by Tanner Hoekman at the UNK 33 and Hoekman went uncontested to the house for another Tiger touchdown. FHSU took a 27-0 lead into halftime.
Fort Hays State went 70 yards in nine plays on its first drive of the second half and finished it with a 3-yard touchdown pass from Mezera to Matt Wendelberger. FHSU pushed its lead to 34-0. UNK followed with a 54-yard drive for its only score of the game, capped by a Worthing 3-yard touchdown rush.
From that point, the Tigers chewed up a massive amount of clock. The Tigers started their second drive of the second half at the 5:12 mark of the third quarter and methodically marched 15 plays for 76 yards over 6:43. Isaiah Blackmon capped the drive on a 1-yard touchdown run with 13:37 to go in the game to make the final margin of 41-7. UNK touched the ball only one more time, then the Tigers ran out the clock with a 21-play, 90-yard drive that chewed up the final 11:08 of the game, opting to take a knee twice after getting the ball all the way to the UNK 2.
The Tigers outgained the Lopers 450 to 300 in the game. The Tigers rushed for over 200 yards for the sixth time this season, finishing with 205 on the ground. They balanced that with 227 passing yards. Iheme rushed for at least 100 yards for the sixth time this season, finishing right at 100 for the game with his touchdown. Mezera finished with 204 passing yards and two touchdowns. Brad Schencker came in for the final drive of the game and threw for 41 yards. Layne Bieberle had a team-best 105 receiving yards on eight catches, his second 100-yard receiving game of the season. Hazlett finished with eight catches for 64 yards. FHSU stayed turnover free, while forcing three turnovers out of UNK.
Fort Hays State has now pushed its best start in school history even further and is now three wins past the previous single-season school record of eight.