EDMOND, Okla. — The Fort Hays State University football team survived a gut check in its first test as a ranked team in NCAA Division II.
The Tigers rallied from 14 down and eventually won 31-24 at University of Central Oklahoma, scoring the go-ahead touchdown with less than a minute to play in the game.
Quarterback Jacob Mezera hit receiver Monterio Burchfield, and the junior had a big stiff arm, and took it 64 yards to the house for the go-ahead score. That came after Burchfield had a 40-yard catch earlier in the fourth quarter that allowed FHSU to tie it up with a 24-yard Brandon Brown field goal.
The win moves No. 21 FHSU to 3-0 overall and in MIAA play. UCO fell to 1-2 (1-2).
Burchfield finished with eight catches for 217 yards.
Things didn’t start well for FHSU. The Tigers punted on their first possession, and had two turnovers — one that led to points for UCO in the first quarter. Mezera had a pass tipped at the line for an interception, and on a reverse pass Layne Bieberle had a pass picked off near the end zone. FHSU trailed 14-0, trailing for the first time this season.
But, the Tigers got on the board for the first time out of the wildcat formation when Harley Hazlett ran in from 8 yards out midway through the second quarter. The 14-7 score held until halftime as FHSU missed a fourth-and-goal opportunity as Hazlett got stuffed short of the goal line.
The Tigers, though, came out with a big play to start the third. On the first play from scrimmage, Mezera hit running back Kenneth Iheme, and the senior rumbled 75 yards for the score. A Brown extra point tied it up.
Near the end of the quarter, Iheme struck again. After having a touchdown called back on the previous possession due to a hold, dove in from 5 yards out to give FHSU its first lead.
UCO, though, came roaring back. The Bronchos got a 46-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, then took back the lead on a 12-yard pass from Chas Stallard to L’lliott Curry. The extra point put UCO up three.
FHSU drove down the field and Mezera kept a seemingly stalled drive alive by hitting Burchfield for 40 yards. The Bronchos also were flagged for a roughing the passer, eventually setting up Brown’s tying field goal. Then it was Burchfield again. With 42 seconds left, Mezera found Burchfield, who laid out his defender with a stiff arm and rumbled in the go-ahead.
UCO, with time left, had a final heave in the end zone and the Tigers knocked the attempt down at the goal line.
Mezera had a monster game as well, going 27 of 37 for 411 yards and two touchdowns. Iheme had four catches for 88 yards and rushed for 65 yards on 18 touches. J.T. Luper had 12 catches for 192 yards for UCO. UCO quarterback Chas Stallard finished 23 of 29 for 293 yards and one score. He also rushed for 39 yards on 13 carries.
The Tigers are at home for a 2 p.m. start against Northeastern State University next Saturday at Lewis Field Stadium.