Fort Hays State (7-2, 7-2 MIAA) vs
Northwest Missouri State (8-1, 8-1 MIAA)
Saturday – 2 pm
Lewis Field Stadium
Game Day Sponsor – American Family Insurance – Brian Ruder Agency
Game Theme – Senior Day (Tiger seniors recognized 20 minutes prior to kickoff)
Following an 0-2 start to the season, Fort Hays State Football is still alive and well in the NCAA playoff picture after rattling off seven straight wins to a current record of 7-2. Their playoff hopes will be put to the test on Saturday (Nov. 9) when No. 12/14 ranked Northwest Missouri State (8-1) comes to Hays for a battle of premier MIAA programs. The Tigers take a No. 24 ranking by D2Football.com into the game, which kicks off at 2 pm inside Lewis Field Stadium.
Northwest Missouri State has been one of the premier programs of NCAA Division II for two decades. The Bearcats have made 15 straight NCAA Playoff appearances and have won six national titles in that stretch. Northwest Missouri ran the table unbeaten in 2015 and 2016 for back-to-back national championships, but Fort Hays State’s rise to prominence disrupted Northwest Missouri’s run of four-straight MIAA titles in 2017 when it went into Maryville and won 13-12. That marked a change in power at the top of the conference as FHSU completed a perfect 11-0 regular season the following week.
Fast-forward to 2018. The Tigers had to make a trip to Maryville once again in Week 10. Entering at 7-2 with their playoff hopes hanging in the balance, the Tigers delivered again by just one point, edging the Bearcats 17-16. That pulled the Bearcats back into a tie with the Tigers, both at 8-2, and both went on to NCAA Playoffs representing the MIAA as co-champions of the conference. It marked the first time in 23 years that a team left Maryville with consecutive wins at Bearcat Stadium.
Fast-forward to 2019…this weekend. The teams enter the meeting in Hays with the same records as last year, NWMSU at 8-1 and FHSU at 7-2. However, this time the teams have company at the top of the MIAA standings with Central Missouri still unbeaten at 9-0 and Missouri Western at 7-2. All four teams are among the top 10 in the latest NCAA Super Region 3 rankings, so postseason play for all hang in the balance going into the final two weeks of the season.
Can the Tigers pull off something historic on Saturday? They look to become the first team since 1996 to win three consecutive regular season games against the Bearcats. The last team to accomplish the feat – Pittsburg State from 1994 to 1996. In fact, Pittsburg State held a nine-game win streak over NWMSU in regular season games from 1983-1996, up to the early beginnings of NWMSU’s Division II dominance. Pittsburg State was also the last team to defeat the Bearcats in three straight meetings, winning both regular season and playoff meetings in 2004 and then the 2005 regular season meeting.
The Tigers have not defeated the Bearcats in Hays since 1977. The sample size is not overly large at six-straight wins for NWMSU at Lewis Field. The Bearcats have won all five meetings between the teams in MIAA play in Hays, the last being a 28-7 win in 2016 during their undefeated run to the national title.
The Tigers and Bearcats own the top two scoring defenses in the MIAA. Northwest Missouri limits its opponents to 18.8 points per game, compared to 21.2 allowed per game by FHSU. However, FHSU has held opponents under 10 points in a game four times this year, while NWMSU has only done that twice. That is pretty significant considering the MIAA boasts nine teams with a scoring average above 30 points per game. Northwest Missouri State averages 48 points per game, while FHSU averages 36.8 per game.
Chance Fuller continues to trigger the Tiger offense. He enters the game ranked eighth in NCAA Division II for passing yards (2,748) and passing yards per game (305.3). He is third in the nation with 30 passing touchdowns, which is now just four shy of the single-season record of 34 set by Shawn Behr back in 1995. He has three receiving threats with over 600 yards this season in Harley Hazlett (717), Manny Ramsey (670), and Layne Bieberle (625). The trio has combined for 22 of Fuller’s 30 passing touchdowns.
Charles Tigner leads the Tiger ground game with 692 yards, averaging 76.9 per contest. D.J. Hickman adds 52 yards per game.
Defensively, Drew Harvey has 74 tackles to lead the Tigers. Tanner Hoekman (69), Jordan Starks (65), and Kolt Trachsel (62) are all north of 60 tackles as well. Isaiah Creal-Musgray leads the team in pass breakups with seven, while Sheldon Schmidt leads in sacks with three.