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Missouri Western Athletics | September 7, 2018

DII football: Missouri Western upsets No. 5 Fort Hays State for first top-5 win in 6 years

ST. JOSEPH โ€“ Turnovers, big-time defensive and special teams plays along with opportune offensive plays led Missouri Western (1-1) to its first win over a top-5 ranked team since 2012 on Thursday night, 23-13 over No. 5 Fort Hays State (1-1). It was Fort Hays State's first regular season loss since Nov. 5, 2016.

The Missouri Western defense picked off Fort Hays State quarterback Jacob Mezera three times, all ending what appeared to be scoring opportunities for the defending MIAA champions. Griffon defenders also broke up nine Fort Hays State passes on the night. The Griffons never trailed, but were tied twice, and always managed to get the plays or drives they needed to stay in control. Derek Gray Jr.'s six-yard touchdown run with 14:22 left in the game put Missouri Western up 17-10, a lead too great for Fort Hays State to overcome. James Huskey iced the game when a rugby-style punt when right to the senior linebacker who dove past the pylon 27 yards later to give the Griffons a 23-13 lead with 8:58 to go. The win was the first over a top-5 team for the program since the Griffons clinched the MIAA Championship with a 21-20 upset of No. 4 Northwest Missouri on Nov. 10, 2012. It was the first win over any ranked opponent for Griffon Football since winning 34-31 at No. 15 Washburn on Nov. 9, 2013. 

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INSIDE THE NUMBERS
The Griffon defense held a usually potent Fort Hays State run game to just 32 total yards on 17 carries. Missouri Western's efforts stopping the run forced the Tigers to pass. Mezera threw for 338 yards and a touchdown, but had the three interceptions and was sacked twice. The Griffons rushed for 224 yards, spreading the wealth. Dom Marino led the rushing attack again with 74 yards on 13 carries and 13-yard first quarter touchdown run that put MWSU up 7-0. Missouri Western's punt return team helped the offense with 117 yards on five returns. Huskey had the non-traditional punt return TD, the first by a Griffon since Brandynn Clark in 2015. Brandin Dandridge returned three punts for 86 yards, including a 58-yard return that set up a short field for Marino's eventual touchdown run.

TOP PERFORMERS
The Griffons spread the love offensively. Six players registered at least one rush in the game. Gray and Marino each had rushing touchdowns. Brock Broughton was the only Griffon with more than one catch in the game as Marino needed just 78 yards passing on 7-of-17 attempts on the night, but he spread the ball to six different receivers. Luke Theis split punting duties with Jack Rasmussen and shined. Theis averaged 44 yards per punt with two inside the 20. His 53-yard punt with 4:38 left pinned the Tiger offense at its own 8-yard line down by 10. Jabbar Miles had two interceptions deep in Griffon territory, broke up another pass and was tied for second on the team with seven tackles. Anthony Williams led the Griffons with eight stops.

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UP NEXT
The schedule doesn't get much easier next week for Missouri Western as the Griffons will face a ranked opponent for the third-straight week. Next up is No. 21-ranked Central Missouri (1-1) in Warrensburg. The Mules bounced back from a heartbreaking season opening loss at Fort Hays State with a 62-10 win over Northeastern State, Thursday night. Central Missouri put up 608 yards of offense