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Kearney, Neb. – The fifth-ranked Fort Hays State Tigers totaled 450 yards and took advantage of three turnovers to beat Nebraska-Kearney, 41-7, Saturday afternoon in Kansas.
Hays (11-0) caps an undefeated regular season and will now host an NCAA Playoff game in two weeks. For the fourth time since joining the MIAA in 2012, UNK (3-8) ends a season with three victories.
An efficient and consistent squad, the Tigers started and ended the first half in big fashion. A 50-yard kickoff return began the game and helped set up one of FHSU’s four touchdown drives on the day. With just 35 seconds left in the half, sophomore linebacker Tanner Hoekman brought back an interception 33 yards for a touchdown and a 27-0 lead.
UNK ended the day with 300 yards but the turnovers led to 14 points. The Lopers longest drive of the day, a 10-play, 76-yard match midway through the second quarter, ended when sophomore QB Steve Worthing (Elkhorn South) was stopped on fourth and two from the Tiger seven-yard line. UNK’s first offensive possession ended at the Hays nine when junior linebacker forced Worthing to fumble.
Junior QB Jacob Mezera finished 25 of 34 for 204 yards, two TD’s and no INT’s. UNK did sack him three times, pushing its season total to 28 which ranks among the highest totals in Division II.
Sophomores Layne Bieberle (105) and Harley Hazlett (64) both caught eight passes and combined for 169 receiving yards. Hazlett caught a one-yard scoring pass from Mezera midway through the second quarter to make it 20-0. The 24-yard drive started thanks to a strip sack by redshirt freshman lineman Sterling Swopes.
Senior back Kenneth Iheme came in as the MIAA’s leading rusher and he totaled 100 yards on 14 carries. Backup Charles Tigner and Isaiah Blackmon combined for 73 yards and a score on 15 carries.
Finally, Hays was 12 of 20 on third down while holding UNK to a 5 of 12 effort. The Tigers also converted twice on fourth down and ran 36 more offensive plays, 85-49, than the Lopers. That led to a 13 minute time of possession advantage.
Defensively, Delgardo, Hoekman and Gretna junior safety Connor Shedeed had seven tackles apiece with Swopes having 2.5 TFL’s. Hoekman managed to tackle junior receiver Sedarius Young (Orlando) after a 52-yard pass reception on UNK’s fourth offensive snap of the game. On the very next play, Delgado forced a fumble to preserve a 7-0 lead.
Worthing went the distance and ended 13 of 23 for 198 yards. Sacked twice, he still had team-highs in carries (11) and rushing yards (39). He completed passes to seven teammates and ran for a three-yard score with 5:17 left in the third quarter. That capped a six-play, 54-yad drive.
Next, Young finished with 72 receiving yards on four catches with junior slot receiver Marvin Marshall (Orlando) having a 43 yard catch. Finally on offense, both juniors Alex Harms (North Platte) and Blake Holtmeier (Kearney Catholic) netted 22 receiving yards.
Omaha sophomore outside linebacker Zach Sullivan (Millard West) paced the Loper defense with 11 tackles, all of the solo variety. His day included three TFL’s for four yards. In his final game as a Loper, fifth-year senior safety George Brown (University City, Mo.) had 10 tackles (six solo). That pushes his career total to 184 and ranks him 24th on UNK’s tackles list.