Chance Fuller threw for a career-high 435 yards with three touchdowns and the Fort Hays State football team picked up its sixth straight win with a 37-31 victory over Nebraska-Kearney on Saturday at Lewis Field Stadium.
Facing one of the best rushing offenses in Division II, The Tiger defense needed just about all the help Fuller and the FHSU offense could provide with the Lopers racking up 287 yards on the ground and scoring three second half touchdowns to stay within striking distance. But the Tigers answered the Lopers down the stretch to move to 6-2 on the season.
Fuller completed 28 of 38 passes, spreading the wealth to his receivers. Manny Ramsey (six catches, 169 yards, 1 TD), Layne Bieberle (seven catches, 127, 1 TD) and Harley Hazlett (nine catches, 81 yards) all enjoyed big days.
"All those guys stepped up and made a lot of plays for us," FHSU coach Chris Brown said. "Chance hit the guys he was supposed to. He never really forced anything, which was good. He's getting better each week. He's really starting to understand our offense and what we're trying to accomplish. He's really turned into that whole quarterback that you want. I'm really proud of the kids; he's done a great job. And I'm really proud of our offense for guys stepping up and doing the things we need to do to win this ball game."
The Lopers (5-3) cut the lead to six for the third time in the second half after Darius Webb scored on a 1-yard plunge with 4:05 remaining. But Fuller moved the chains twice with completions to help the Tigers run out the clock. He found Ramsey for 10 yards on a 3rd-and-9, and connected with Hazlett for another 10-yard gain on a 3rd-and-6 to seal it.
"I was just going to my guys," Fuller said. "I knew they were going to be there and I knew they were going to make the play. That's what they're there for."
"We're always trying to end the game with us having the ball in our hands," Brown said. "We executed and got the job done. The receivers were catching the ball and getting those extra yards to get that first down, fighting for those extra yards. I'm just proud of this team the way we battle week in and week out."
Fuller had 250 yards through the air by halftime as the Tigers took a 23-10 lead into the break.
FHSU never trailed, opening with a three and out on defense followed by a five-play, 74-yard opening drive capped off by Charles Tigner's 17-yard touchdown run. Tigner then helped the Fort Hays answer a UNK touchdown with a 15-yard touchdown reception from Fuller, though Dante Brown missed the extra point to keep the score at 13-7.
Brown added a 33-yard field goal early in the second quarter and Fuller hit Bieberle for a 9-yarder to put FHSU up 16. The Lopers then made a 33-yard field goal with 1:47 left before halftime.
"We needed to come out early and put some points on the board and stress them, and I thought we did that," Brown said. "We got that lead and we never gave it back."
After Webb's 10-yard touchdown run for UNK with 10:11 left in the third quarter, Ramsey came through with the highlight of the day. The sophomore caused the UNK cornerback to fall with a slant-and go route, breaking wide open for an 88-yard touchdown.
"I just felt like I needed to run harder inside and that's what I did," Ramsey said. "The corner ended up falling. Chance threw a great ball and I just kept running."
"He made him fall and I was just like, 'Don't miss Manny,' " Fuller said. "He took off and went to go score."
UNK quarterback T.J. Davis brought the Lopers within six with 13:28 left in the game before Tigner scored on a 2-yard run for his third TD.
"We had to continue to score points, because UNK can put up some big numbers, especially with all the weapons that they have offensively," Brown said.
The Tigers finished with a season-high 514 yards of offense.
"When we're on a roll, there's no one that can stop us," Ramsey said. "It all starts in practice when we go in there and get the timing of the routes. It's been fun."
Davis rushed for 118 yards while Webb added 88 yards.
"Our defense, we struggled a little bit with the triple option stuff, the gun-run option," Brown said. "It's just guys doing their assignment, doing their jobs. We've got to win at the line of scrimmage a little more defensively, and even offensively; I didn't think we got a run game going like we should have."
Hazlett is just one catch away from of the career reception record at FHSU of 168 held by Eric Busenbark. It was Beiberle's ninth 100-yard receiving game of his career at FHSU, one shy of the record held by Lance Schwindt.
Tanner Hoekman led the Tigers with 11 tackles and Kolt Trachsel added 10.
D.J. Hickman finished with 43 yards rushing for FHSU while Tigner added 42 on the ground.
FHSU will play at Lincoln (1-7) next week.
"This next game, you get very scared as a coach, because Lincoln hasn't done very well in our conference and it could be one of those games where we come in there and relax and have a slip-up and they get us," Brown said. "So we got to be focused this week on Lincoln and not looking ahead toward Northwest (Missouri State). We need to prepare ourselves like we're preparing for anybody else and go down there and have a good football game. But I think if these kids continue to focus and lock in and not take teams lightly and do the things they need to do to make this team better, we have a good chance to win out. But right now the next game is the most important so we got to get Lincoln on our mind."