JOPLIN, Mo. — On a day full of surprises around the MIAA, No. 18-ranked Fort Hays State never allowed Missouri Southern to entertain thoughts of an upset.
The Tigers took control early and rolled up 653 yards of offense en route to a 55-20 victory over the winless Lions on Saturday at Fred Hughes Stadium.
FHSU (3-1) stormed out to a 21-3 advantage in the first quarter and led 35-6 at halftime.
“We needed to get up early on them, have them start thinking about the last three games and what happened,” FHSU coach Chris Brown. “But you never know ... if a team comes out on fire and give them a little confidence, they are going to give you a battle for four quarters. They did; Southern kept fighting all the way through it. You could see those kids trying to give a lot of good effort. I think in a short amount of time, this place will change."
FHSU senior quarterback Jacob Mezera threw for 237 yards and four touchdowns on 15-of-23 passing while Matt Wendelberger and Manny Ramsey enjoyed career nights receiving. Wendelberger caught seven passes for 145 yards with two scores while Ramsey made five grabs for 110 yards and a TD.
Tigner led the Tigers on the ground with 116 yards on seven carries, setting the tone with a 55-yard touchdown run on FHSU’s second play from scrimmage. Mezera thew touchdown passes to Ramsey (15 yards) and Jacoby Williams (11 yards) to stake the Tigers to an early 17-point lead.
“We wanted to get the run game going so we could get some play-action as well, and we were able to do that," Brown said. "We've struggled offensively. We just had to find a way to get points on the board. We've been trying to do that for the last three weeks. Tonight we were able to do that. We have to keep working those things and make sure we get our timing down."
Wendelberger caught touchdowns passes for of 21 and 9 yards from Mezera to keep the Tigers rolling.
Chance Fuller, who split time with Mezera at quarterback for the second straight game, tossed a 13-yard TD to Andrew Jay early in the third quarter. Isaiah Truss also rushed for an 8-yard TD in the third frame while Dante Brown connected of field goals of 48 and 43 yards in the second half.
“I liked the first quarter how we came out,” Brown said. “The second quarter I wasn't so pleased with. I think the third and fourth quarter we came out and played hard until the last five minutes of the game. We've been trying to get our kids to play hard for four quarters, practice hard all through practice and really lock in. I think we started to do that tonight.”
Missouri Southern underwent a coaching change this week after Denver Johnson resigned as head coach and Joe Bettasso was named interim coach.
“I thought they came out ready to go, ready to get after it,” Brown said of the Lions. “They've struggled the last three weeks, and we were able to get up on them early, and then you start thinking (here we go) again as kids. These kids need to have some confidence. They need to come to work every single day, buy into what the coaches are doing. Everything they do has got to be perfect, whether it's the classroom, whether it's the weight room, whether it's the community ... taking care of their bodies, doing things the right way. If they do those things, I see a very, very good team. They have to do things the right way and make it important to them.
“I think that's the main thing. When I first got to Fort Hays, it was the same thing. We had to make it important to these kids that football and school are the most important things. That's where you're going to get somewhere in life."
Mezera moved up to second on two career charts for FHSU. He’s three completions away from breaking Mike Garrison’s record of 540, and is just four passing touchdowns behind Treveon Albert’s record of 55.
Fuller finished 10 of 18 through the air for 168 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
The Tigers picked off the Lions three times, with Connor Shedeed, Tanner Hoekman and Jhimon Preston each notching a pick.
Tevin Evans led FHSU with 14 tackles while Shedeed notched 10 as the Tigers held the Lions to 295 yards of offense.
Two ranked MIAA teams fell on Saturday, with No. 4 Northwest Missouri being knocked off, 31-21, at Central Oklahoma and Washburn taking down Central Missouri 28-21 in Topeka. Pittsburg State is the only unbeaten team left in the conference.
The Tigers will face Central Oklahoma for homecoming at 7 p.m. next Saturday in Lewis Field Stadium.
The Joplin Globe contributed to this story.