FHSU SPORTS INFORMATION DEPARTMENT
COPPERAS COVE, Texas – Fort Hays State closed out the 2016 season on Saturday evening (Dec. 3) in a big way with the program’s first-ever bowl and postseason game win. FHSU posted an impressive 33-point win, 45-12, over Eastern New Mexico to finish 8-4 and tie the school record for wins for a second straight season.
Eastern New Mexico had no answer for Fort Hays State’s speed as the Tigers gashed the Greyhounds for big plays all night. The onslaught started early in the first quarter when Jacob Mezera found Layne Bieberle for a 55-yard touchdown at the 10:48 mark. About six and a half minutes later Shaquille Cooper’s shiftiness and speed could not be harnessed as he broke free for a 65-yard touchdown run making it 14-0 in favor of FHSU through one quarter.
Eastern New Mexico picked up its only touchdown of the night at the 13:13 mark of the second quarter on a fourth down situation at the goal line. Kamal Cass punched the ball in for the Greyhounds, but Jose Delgado blocked the extra point to leave the Tigers with an eight-point lead, 14-6.
Following the block, lightning struck again for the Tigers when DeAndre James took the ensuing kickoff 88 yards to the house for his second-career return touchdown pushing the Tigers further ahead, 21-6. James finished with 119 kick return yards. At the 5:28 mark, Mezera found Bieberle once again for a 12-yard touchdown pass to cap a 10-play, 70-yard drive that consumed 4:46, making the score 28-6.
Eastern New Mexico kicker Bailey Hale punched through a 32-yard field goal to pull the Greyhounds within 19 with 41 ticks left on the clock in the opening half, but FHSU was not done yet as Cooper turned on the jets down the left sideline on a 40-yard touchdown pass from Mezera. It gave the Tigers a commanding 35-9 lead at the break.
Neither team scored in the third quarter and then Hale capped the scoring for ENMU early in the fourth with a 45-yard field goal. But the Tigers put points on the board twice more for good measure, a 24-yard touchdown run by Kenneth Iheme and a 26-yard field goal by Brandon Brown. He set a new single-season FHSU record for field goals made on the final scoring play, his 16th of the season.
Penalties were crushing to Eastern New Mexico all night, which finished with a mind-blowing 21 for 226 yards, despite gaining 408 yards for the game.
Cooper showed why he is one of the most feared offensive threats in the MIAA by finishing with 146 rushing yards on 11 carries (averaging 13.3 yards per attempt) and 66 receiving yards on two catches (33 yards per catch) for a total of 212 all-purpose yards. For his efforts, he was named the Heart of Texas Bowl Most Valuable Player.
He averaged 16.3 yards gained on the 13 plays he had the ball. Cooper now has 3,993 all-purpose yards in his career at FHSU, which ranks fourth in school history. He rushed for 100-yards for the 12th time in his Tiger career, just one shy of Clint Bedore’s school record of 13 games.
Bieberle also finished with more than 100 all-purpose yards, hauling in a team-high four catches for 97 yards. He added a 36-yard punt return to make 133 all-purpose yards for the game.
On the defensive side of the ball, Delgado was all over for the Tigers, finishing with a team-high 13 tackles to go with his blocked kick. He led a defensive charge that held the second-best rushing attack in the nation to just one touchdown on the night. Wyatt Parker and Nathan Shepherd each had eight tackles in the middle of the defensive line to help control the triple-option attack of the Greyhounds.
D2CCA Super Region and MIAA Defensive Player of the Year Sie Doe, Jr. had five tackles but did not push his sack total higher with ENMU running the ball 70 times compared to just 15 passing. He finishes the year with 81 tackles, 15 sacks, 19.5 tackles for loss, and five forced fumbles. Alex Schmidtberger finished with eight tackles and finishes second on the career tackles list for the NCAA era at FHSU with 353.
With a 15-of-26 passing effort, Mezera set a new FHSU single-season record for completion percentage at 63 percent. It passes the old mark of 61 percent set by Mike Garrison in 2009. Mezera’s 2,541 passing yards for the season ranks sixth in FHSU history.
Fort Hays State finishes 8-4 for the second straight season, reaching the single-season school record for wins for the eighth time in program history. Head coach Chris Brown moves to 38-30 over six seasons at FHSU, giving FHSU four consecutive winning seasons. That’s the most in a row for the program’s NCAA history and most since four straight from 1990-1993. Though they tied for fourth in the MIAA, the Tigers finished with the fourth-best overall record among MIAA teams alone after Washburn lost in the Mineral Water Bowl and Pittsburg State did not play a postseason game.