As with any close loss, there will be a handful of miscues and missed opportunities that will stick with Fort Hays State when the Tigers reflect on Saturday's 36-33 double-overtime thriller with Northwest Missouri State.
But the Tigers will also remember the big-time plays they did make in a heart-pounding battle with the Bearcats.
In a showdown where emotions ran the gamut for both teams, Fort Hays State All-American kicker Dante Brown sent it to overtime by knocking in a 56-yard game-tying field goal on the last play of regulation.
The teams traded touchdowns in the first overtime, but FHSU turned it over in the second OT, allowing Northwest to end it with Parker Sampson's 38-yard field goal.
The loss knocked the Tigers to 7-3 and likely ended their playoff hopes.
"It sucks that we didn't come out on top, but I feel strongly that everyone out there gave it everything they had," sophomore receiver Manny Ramsey said. "We knew it was going to be a dogfight. Our whole team came out battling. But we didn't come out on top, so tip your caps to (Northwest)."
FHSU took control early, storming to a 17-0 lead before Northwest (9-1) reeled off 19 straight points.
With the Bearcats protecting a three-point lead late, the Tigers got a defensive stop and got close enough on their final drive for Brown to hit a career-long field goal, his fourth of the day.
"Great game. Two great football teams battling it out for two overtimes," FHSU coach Chris Brown said. "Dante's kick was amazing to get us to overtime. I'm proud of our kids. They really battled and they fought and did everything they possibly could to win that game. When you look back at it, it really all comes down to the first half. We turned the ball over a couple times, gave up some big plays for touchdowns.
"But I'm still proud of our kids."
After Brown's tying field goal, Imoni Donadelle caught a 5-yard TD from Braden Wright on Northwest's first overtime possession, but FHSU answered when Chance Fuller fired a bullet over the middle to Dandre Reed for a 25-yard TD. Brown made the PAT to send it to a second overtime.
On a third-and-2 for the Tigers in the second OT, senior receiver Harley Hazlett took the snap out of the wildcat formation and lunged out with the ball to try and gain the first down. Northwest's Mike Ehlke knocked the ball out of Hazlett's hands and recovered the fumble.
"Just a kid trying to make a play, trying to make things happen, and trying to get to that first down, because he was a little bit short," Chris Brown said. "He was going to have to reach out to get that first down. It's not his fault. It's a team loss."
Northwest moved the ball just four yards on its second OT possession but it was close enough for Sampson to end the game.
In retrospect, Brown said he regretted not going for the win with a two-point try after Reed's touchdown in the first OT.
"We had a special play that we've never used," Brown said. "I think it probably would've worked with what they were doing defensively. But I just thought we could come back out there and battle and find another way to stop them."
The Tigers looked poised for a statement win early. Brown made a 25-yard field goal on FHSU's first possession and Hazlett later scored on a 9-yard run on the last play of the first quarter to make it 10-0.
FHSU defensive lineman Sterling Swopes forced and recovered a fumble at the Northwest 5 early in the second quarter. After a chop block pushed FHSU back 15 yards, the Tigers used some trickery on the next play when Hazlett took a pitch and tossed it to a wide-open Ramsey for a 20-yard TD.
The rest of the half largely belonged to the Bearcats, starting with a 1-yard TD run by Wright that was set up by a 54-yard catch and run by Gus Gomez.
The Tigers were stuffed on a fourth-and-1 at the Northwest 49 on the ensuing possession, and Wright hit Imoni Donadelle for a 42-yard touchdown to bring the Bearcats back within three.
Northwest then turned a Fuller interception into a field goal from Sampson to tie it up. FHSU momentarily caught a big break with about six minutes left in the half when Benjamin Donald's punt bounced off a Northwest player and was recovered by FHSU, but the Tigers failed to capitalize after Fuller threw a pick on the next play.
"He just needed to calm down," Brown said of Fuller. "I think he stressed himself early in the heat of the battle, heat of the game. I thought he really calmed down after halftime and made some really, really nice throws."
Northwest later pinned the Tigers at their own 1 and tackled Te'Corey Tutson in the end zone for a safety to grab a 19-17 lead.
"It all started in the first half. That's where we lost the game — in the first half after we were up 17-0," Brown said. "We got to find a way to keep plugging away, keep playing hard. But we gave them opportunities."
The Tigers took back the lead early in the second half on a 27-yard boot from Dante Brown. Northwest answered back with a 9-yard TD pass from Wright to Justin Rankin to make it 26-20.
Brown made a 38-yard kick with 12:25 to cut the FHSU deficit to three. The Bearcats threatened to run out the clock but Fort Hays forced a punt and started at their own 19 with 1:05 left.
After moving the ball to the Bearcat 30 with 12 seconds left, the Tigers nearly took themselves out of field goal range after Fuller was sacked for a 9-yard loss, but Brown's 56-yarder had plenty of distance to keep FHSU alive.
"Kid has an unreal leg," Ramsey said. "He does that all the time in practice. In my mind, I know he's going to make it and I have the full confidence in him."
It was the third straight FHSU-Northwest game that went down to the wire. Fort Hays picked up one-point road wins in the two previous matchups.
"You know when Northwest and Fort Hays State University play, it's going to be a physical football game whether it's at their place or it's at our place," Chris Brown said. "I'm proud of the way we played. We played physical and we played hard. I just wish we could've forced a few more turnovers and didn't have our turnovers."
Wright went 23 of 43 through the air for 279 yards and three touchdowns and an interception. He also rushed for 96 yards on 10 carries.
"He hadn't thrown like that the last three or four games. He was on tonight with this throwing game," Brown said.
Fuller completed 30 of 54 passes for 342 passing yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Ramsey had seven receptions for 115 yards while Hazlett made seven grabs for 86.
The Tigers managed just 33 rushing yards, with Tutson picking up 26 yards on 12 carries.
The action was halted for several minutes early in the fourth quarter after Northwest Missouri senior defensive back Chama Pierre suffered a gruesome lower-leg injury that quieted the crowd. Pierre was placed on a stretcher and carted off the field.
"I'm praying for that kid tonight," Chris Brown said. "That was a terrible injury. He's a great player, he's a great kid. Our thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family."
The Bearcats put themselves in a strong position to make the playoffs. They can earn a share of the MIAA title by beating undefeated Central Missouri next week in Maryville.
Sophomore defensive back Jordan Starks led the Tigers' defense with 12 tackles and an interception.
"We definitely left it all out there," Starks said of his team. "I know we have a couple plays we'd like to have back, but that's football, especially when you're playing a good team."
FHSU will close out the regular season next Saturday at Northeastern State.
"I know they're hurting in the locker room and they feel like this is a lost season, but this is a really, really good season that we've had so far," Chris Brown said. "We've still got one more game to get after it. We need to win that game and have an 8-3 season and see what happens from there. Playoffs? More than likely probably not. Bowl game? I'm pretty sure we can at least get into a bowl game."