The No. 10 Bearcats missed a chance to clinch a share of the MIAA title in a 17-16 loss to the Tigers Nov. 3.
With 1:29 left in the game it appeared as Northwest (8-2) would have a chance for one final drive but a roughing the kicker penalty on a Fort Hays punt took away any chance of that.
The game ended with Northwest compiling a season-lows in both offensive yards, 178, and points, 16. The defense halted any run game from the Tigers giving up just 12 yards rushing but allowed 240 yards through the air and two passing scores.
Fort Hays jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead in the first quarter before the Bearcat defense found its footing.
While the Tigers got off to a fast start, the Bearcats totaled a mere 18 yards in the first quarter and were 0-5 on third downs. Coach Rich Wright attributed the slow start to the short gains on first down to open drives.
“Because we were going three and out so fast I didn’t get to watch much of the game because I was busy watching the defensive stuff,” Wright said. “It just seemed that they got behind in the chains and for a young football team I felt like it hurt us and got us out of our rhythm.”
Despite being out of rhythm most of the first half, Northwest trailed 14-10 at halftime due to sophomore Parker Sampson hitting a field and senior wide receiver Shawn Bane Jr. taking a punt 58 yards for a touchdown. The punt return was with 1:52 left on the clock. A common theme all day for Northwest was defensive line applying pressure to the Tiger quarterback, which they did to stall the final drive of the half.
The Bearcats had four sacks on the day and where constantly applying pressure to freshman quarterback Chance Fuller. Senior defensive end Austen Eskew had a shared sack and was part of the pressure for Northwest.
“We just practiced all week with getting some movement and being vertical with our pass rushes,” Eskew said. “I feel like we were pretty successful today, we had the quarterback running around quite a bit but he hung in there, threw the ball and made some plays.”
Another key on the defensive line for Northwest was sophomore defensive tackle Sam Roberts, who finished the game with one sack and two tackles for loss. Roberts game was cut short in the third quarter for a targeting penalty which will also keep him out of the first half of the regular season finally against Central Missouri.
The Bearcats opened the second half on a high note with a 78-yard touchdown drive to take the lead and in what would prove to be the game-deciding point, Fort Hays blocked the extra point. With a 16-14 score, the Tigers answered and knocking in a 42-yard field goal to bring it to 17-16.
The score would remain the same for the rest of the game and Bane said it wasn’t one thing that led to the offensive struggles.
“It was a plethora of things out there,” Bane said. “The receivers had to get separation and it was a bunch of things but all in all it is really a mentality and I feel like we lack that at times.”
With a loss to Fort Hays, the conference title is not out of reach for the Bearcats as they head to Warrensburg in a Week 11 matchup with the Mules Nov. 10. With a win against Central Missouri, Northwest can still clinch at least a share of the MIAA title.