The four MIAA schools in Kansas are off to a combined 4-0 start after Emporia State, Fort Hays State, Pittsburg State and Washburn all claimed their season openers last Thursday.
It’s the first time since 2010 that all four of the in-state MIAA schools have won their openers in the same year.
Week 1 was highlighted by a showdown between No. 5-ranked Fort Hays State and No. 18 Central Missouri that lived up to its billing.
UCM had the defending MIAA champs on the ropes before the Tigers scored two touchdowns and forced two turnovers in the last five minutes of the game to notch a come-from-behind 20-16 win.
“They came into our house and were up big on us, kind of, and we showed we can come back without playing our best game,” FHSU defensive back Tanner Hoekman said. “We’ve got a lot to improve on, and we’ll get that done, but it means a lot to everyone (to come from behind). The confidence just sky rockets.”
Fort Hays took advantage of the absence of UCM All-MIAA quarterback Brook Bolles for most of the second half after Bolles left with an arm injury early in the third quarter.
The Tigers got back into the game on a 37-yard touchdown catch by redshirt freshman Jmari Davis from Jacob Mezera with 4:46 left in the fourth quarter. FHSU had the ball back a minute later when Sheldon Schmidt recovered a fumble from UCM backup quarterback Kyle Bradley and returned it to the UCM 4, and the Tigers cashed in three plays later on a 5-yard touchdown pass to Layne Bieberle from Mezera with 3:05 left.
Hoekman then picked off a pass from Bradley at the Tigers’ 25-yard line in the closing seconds to seal the win.
Washburn, led by senior inside linebackers Austin Tillman and Derrick McGreevy, pitched a shutout in the second half to take down Lindenwood 27-14 in St. Charles, Mo.
“It was a nice win,” Washburn coach Craig Schurig told the Topeka Capital-Journal after the game. “Obviously we played sloppy the first game, but defense played great the second half. We’re glad to get a win out of here.”
The Ichabods took a 17-14 lead into halftime before holding the Lions to just 85 yards in the second half.
Tillman and McGreevy combined for 26 tackles, with Tillman logging 15 and McGreevy 11.
“I feel like (the defense) started out a little slow, being the first game and not knowing really what they were going to do,” Tillman told The Capital-Journal. “We kind of had to settle into our jobs and what we were going to do.
“Once we game planned on the sideline and when we were able to go into half and talk about what they were doing, we were kind of able to settle down and the first-game jitters were out of the way. We were able to lock it in and get the job done.”
All three of Washburn’s touchdowns came on the ground, with quarterback Blake Peterson running for 3- and 9-yard scores while running back Curtis Whitten scored on a 1-yard plunge. Peterson went 14 of 29 through the air for 209 yards with two interceptions.
Emporia State's win was fueled by 21 unanswered points in the third quarter to pull away from Northeastern State for a 34-7 win in Tahlequah, Okla.
The Hornets forced the RiverHawks into four turnovers, including three in the third quarter, and held NSU to 215 yards of offense.
“It’s like blood in the water for sharks,” ESU coach Garin Higgins told the Emporia Gazette. “Once we started getting turnovers, they wanted to keep getting them. We turned up the heat in the third quarter, defensively. I was really proud of how our defense played in the second half, but I didn’t think we played, really either side of the ball really well.”
Offensively, ESU relied on its ground game led by Landon Nault and Ricky VanWeezel. Nault rushed for 88 yards and two scores on 19 carries while VanWeezel had 81 yards on 17 attempts. ESU quarterback Braxton Marstall was 17 of 30 through the air with two touchdown passes to Tyler Harris.
In Pittsburg, the Gorillas opened up a 21-0 lead by halftime and limited Central Oklahoma to just a fourth-quarter touchdown, taking a 21-7 win over the Bronchos at Carnie Smith Stadium.
The Gorillas held the Bronchos to 234 yards of offense, 99 yards on the ground and 135 through the air.
Tyler Adkins had a 6-yard touchdown run, Lorenzo West caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from John Roderique and KiAnte Hardin scored on a 59-yard punt return to account for the scoring for the Gorillas.
Other MIAA results included Northwest Missouri’s 28-6 win at home against Missouri Western and Nebraska-Kearney’s 45-0 rout of Missouri Southern at Kearney.MIAA ATHLETES OF THE WEEK Fort Hays kicker/punter Dante Brown, Emporia State defensive lineman Parker Bass, Nebraska-Kearney running back Darrius Webb earned MIAA player-of-the-week honors on Monday. Brown was special teams player of the week, tying FHSU's record for longest punt in program history with an 84-yarder against UCM. He averaged 47.6 yards punting on seven attempts and also made 30- and 31-yard field goals. Bass had 3.5 sacks, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble against Northeastern State to earn the defensive honor. UNK's Webb, the offensive player of the week, ran for 163 yards against Southern and scored three touchdowns, including a 98-yarder that tied the school record for longest touchdown run.
WHAT THE POLLS SAY
Fort Hays State remained No. 5 in the American Football Coaches Association Division II poll released on Monday.
Northwest Missouri, which was tied at No. 5 with FHSU in the preseason poll, dropped slightly to No. 6 while Central Missouri fell three spots to No. 21.
Pittsburg State, Emporia State and Washburn all received votes.
More Thursday night games are on tap this week, highlighted by the in-state clash between Pittsburg State and Emporia State at 7 p.m. in ESU’s Welch Stadium.
Washburn will look to knock off Northwest Missouri in their home opener at 6 p.m. in Yager Stadium, while Fort Hays State will face Missouri Western on the road at 7 p.m in Spratt Stadium.
The other Thursday games are Northeastern State at Central Missouri, and Nebraska-Kearney at Central Oklahoma. Missouri Southern will play to host Lindenwood for the lone MIAA game on Saturday this week.
‘LAST CHANCE U’ STAR RULED ELIGIBLE AT MISSOURI WESTERN
Carlos Thompson, one of the stars in Season 3 of the Netflix series “Last Chance U,” has been ruled eligible to play at Missouri Western, the St. Joseph News-Press reported Saturday.
Thompson caught 48 passes for 544 yards last season for Independence Community College, which was chronicled in the popular documentary television series.
He started his career at Texas Tech, playing three games for the Red Raiders in 2013.
Thompson's status for Thursday's game against Fort Hays State is unknown.