HAYS, Kan. – Fort Hays State and Northwest Missouri State have made a habit of producing instant classics the last three years. After FHSU claimed two straight in Maryville by one point each, Northwest Missouri State countered with a three-point win, 36-33, in double overtime at Lewis Field Stadium on Saturday (Nov. 9). The Bearcats moved to 9-1, still alive for the MIAA title, while the Tigers dropped to 7-3.
The Tigers were well in control early, scoring the game’s first 17 points up to the 13:36 mark of the second period. Dante Brown hit a 25-yard field goal on the game’s opening drive to start the scoring. Later, as time expired in the first quarter, Harley Hazlett crossed the goal line on a nine-yard touchdown run. A Northwest Missouri fumble deep in Tiger territory set up another touchdown, this time on a Hazlett pass to Manny Ramsey from 20 yards out capped the impressive start.
Most programs would be deflated by such a start, but the championship-caliber Bearcat program did not blink in the face of adversity. Big plays all the sudden brought them right back in the game. Quarterback Braden Wright found Gus Gomez for a 54-yard pass that took the ball down to the FHSU 1. Wright plunged the ball in a play later, cutting the lead to 17-7.
The Bearcats continued to seize momentum further when they stuffed FHSU on a 4th-and-1 situation near midfield. Three plays later following the turnover on downs, Wright found Imoni Donadelle for a 42-yard touchdown pass. Within a span of just three minutes on the clock, Northwest Missouri was right back in the game, down 17-14.
Another Tiger mistake turned into points a few minutes later. Chance Fuller had a pass intercepted at midfield, which led to a 41-yard field goal by Parker Sampson that tied the game 17-17 just over six minutes after FHSU built its 17-point lead.
Even more went wrong for the Tigers in the frustrating second quarter. NWMSU punted the ball down to the FHSU 1 and a play later forced a safety taking a 19-17 lead. The Bearcats took that two-point margin into halftime.
The Tigers moved the ball well on their first drive of the second half, getting down to the NWMSU 10 before Brown booted through a 27-yard field goal to give FHSU the lead back at 20-19. However, the Bearcats responded with a 9-play, 75-yard touchdown drive capped by a 9-yard pass from Wright to Justin Rankin. NWMSU led 26-20 as the game went to the fourth quarter.
Brown continued his solid kicking performance with a 38-yard field goal at 12:25 remaining, cutting the Bearcat lead down to 26-23. Both teams struggled to advance the ball over the next five possessions and the Tigers had the ball back for a final time in regulation with 1:05 to go. Three straight passes, converted for 12, 24, and 15 yards had the Tigers down to the NWMSU 30 with 12 seconds remaining. A nine-yard NWMSU sack pushed the ball back to the 39-yardline with 5 ticks remaining on the clock as FHSU took its final timeout.
Enter Brown one more time but this time in the biggest game of the year, he had to convert a career-long 56-yard field goal. The reigning Don Hansen National Special Teams Player of the Year lived up to the hype and nailed it. Tie ballgame, 26-26, as regulation time expired.
In the first overtime, the teams traded touchdowns. NWMSU had the ball first and eventually scored on a 5-yard pass from Wright to Donadelle. FHSU countered with a 25-yard pass from Fuller to Dandre Reed. The game went to the second OT tied 33-33.
The big break went the way of the Bearcats in the second overtime. On third down Hazlett reached the ball out on a rush trying to gain a first down, but it was punched loose and NWMSU recovered. NWMSU moved the ball just four yards on its possession, but Sampson like Brown remained perfect on field goal attempts by hitting a 38-yarder to win the game for the Bearcats.
The loss is unfortunate for the Tigers, considering that the No. 8 (Missouri Western) and No. 6 (Grand Valley State) ranked teams in the Super Region lost. Ranked No. 10 in the latest Super Region rankings, the Tigers were trying to take down the No. 7 ranked Bearcats. The path to a potential playoff berth was lining up for the Tigers, but fate broke the direction of the Bearcats in overtime.
Fuller had 342 passing yards, completing 30-of-54 attempts. Ramsey finished with a team-high 115 receiving yards, followed by Hazlett with 86. The Tigers struggled to just 33 rushing yards, led by Te’Corey Tutson with 26. Jordan Starks led the Tiger defense with 12 tackles and an interception, while Drew Harvey added 10 tackles.
Wright led the Bearcat offense with 279 passing yards and 96 rushing yards. Donadelle had a team-high 70 receiving yards for NWMSU. Blake Bayer and Jackson Barnes had a team-high eight tackles each.
The Tigers close out the 2019 regular season next Saturday (Nov. 16) in a contest at Northeastern State. Game time is set for 2 pm in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.