HAYS, Kan. — The 34th career start by Tyler Bacon will be the most important thus far in his four-plus seasons at Fort Hays State University.
That’s because the former Quapaw High School standout and the fourth-ranked Tigers (11-0) battle No. 10 Ferris State (10-0) in the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs here Saturday, Nov. 25.
“It’s been a blast out here, winning the conference championship,” Bacon said. “We’re 11-0 and are in the playoffs. We had a first-round bye (as the No. 1 seed in Super Region 3). You couldn’t ask for anything better.”
The Tigers broke the Northwest Missouri-Pittsburg State lock on the MIAA with an 11-0 record.
They beat Pitt State 21-17 at home and Northwest 13-12 on the road, snapping the Bearcats’ 23-game home winning streak.
“Being able to go in and beat teams like Pitt and Northwest, the top dogs in the conference, is something that’s not easy, that’s for sure,” said Bacon, who received all-MIAA honorable mention recognition as a wide receiver. “But the coaches have had a vision since I’ve been here of being able to be that top dog.
“It’s definitely cool to be a part of something like this.”
This was Fort Hayes’ 10th conference title, but first since 1995, when it was co-champions with Western State of the old Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
Fort Hayes transitioned into the MIAA in 2006.
Northwest won eight outright titles and shared the 2014 crown with the Gorillas.
Pittsburg State also won a league title in 2011.
Bacon, who has gained 25 pounds since his playing days at Quapaw, has started 10 of Fort Hays’ 11 games, logging 36 receptions for 376 yards with two touchdowns.
He had a season-best eight catches for 105 yards in the season opener against Nebraska-Kearney.
“It’s one of those things where you have a vision (to get to play as much as he has),” Bacon said. “That was the vision I had when I got here. You do a lot of hard work. You feel blessed because you are able to play, but at the same time its something that you have to see yourself in that position to get there.”
Bacon had 2,072 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns at Quapaw, where he was the District 2A-8 offensive player of the year as a senior.
Defensively, he logged 220 total tackles with 10 interceptions, three forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries.
This will be Fort Hays State's first NCAA Playoff appearance since 1995 and third overall. It qualified for the NAIA playoffs in 1990.
Saturday’s game will be the Tigers’ first-ever NCAA playoff game at home.
Ferris State, located in Big Rapids, Michigan, defeated Great American Conference Champion Ouachita Baptist (Arkansas) University 24-19 in the opening round Nov. 18.
Ferris State qualified for the Division II playoffs for the fourth straight year.
It finished second in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title with an 8-1 record and earned the No. 4 seed in the region.