Tiger football team bowl bound

Bowl Game Logo

By Diane Gasper-O'Brien
University Relations and Marketing
Hays, Kan. -- There will be a lot of memorable plays and dates and names from this year's record-setting season for the Fort Hays State University football team. But Tiger fans might want to remember a name that has nothing to do with the FHSU program.

Vic Bonuchi is a former high school coach from Excelsior Springs, Mo., who convinced townspeople to bring back the Mineral Water Bowl in the early 1990s after a 16-year hiatus.

Started as a high school all-star game in 1948, it switched to a small-college post-season game in 1954, but interest in the game waned in the early '70s, and it was discontinued after the 1975 game. It was resurrected in 1992 and has been played for 19 consecutive years.

Roger Siegel, director of the Mineral Water Bowl, said there are only three bowl games for NCAA Division II teams in the country. Invited to the Mineral Water Bowl are teams from two of the top football conferences in NCAA D-II -- the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association and the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. Ticket information is listed below.

FHSU earned the right to play in the 2015 Mineral Water Bowl -- the 50th year it will be played -- by upsetting nationally ranked No. 20 University of Central Missouri 28-14 on Senior Day Nov. 14 at Lewis Field Stadium.

Thirteen seniors were honored in their final game at Lewis Field before that game, and then the Tigers proceeded to beat the Mules at home for the first time in 50 years.
Less than 24 hours later, those seniors learned their careers were not yet over.

As the top finishing team in the MIAA that did not qualify for the NCAA Division II playoffs, the Tigers were invited to the Mineral Water Bowl, where they will meet the NSIC's University of Minnesota-Duluth at noon Dec. 5 in Excelsior Springs. Both teams bring 8-3 records into the game.

The game will have a little bit of hometown flavor for FHSU fans.

"We have a big alumni base in the Kansas City area," said Curtis Hammeke, FHSU athletic director. "We usually have a good following at the MIAA basketball tourney in Kansas City. So we're hoping to get some fans from there to the football game."

The stadium itself also will have a welcoming effect to the Fort Hays State contingent. The game will be played at Tiger Stadium, home of the Excelsior Springs High School team that features an artificial turf field and chair-back seats from the Kansas City Chiefs Arrowhead Stadium.

The home team for the Mineral Water Bowl alternates every other year between the MIAA and the NSIC teams. Minnesota-Duluth will be the designated home team this year. However, Siegel said the MIAA representative is given the home side of the field at the stadium, which holds 2,300 fans.

Because of proximity, MIAA teams traditionally bring more fans than those from the NSIC. While FHSU fans have less than 300 miles to travel for the bowl game, Duluth, Minn. -- situated on the banks of Lake Superior -- is 566 miles away.

Excelsior Springs, population 11,000, has a limited number of hotel rooms, so Siegel suggested for fans to seek hotel accommodations at nearby Liberty, Mo., 13 miles southwest of Excelsior Springs.

The FHSU Athletic Department and Alumni Association are working on the possibility of scheduling buses to transport fans to the game. There will be alumni events scheduled around the game, as well as a send-off for the team, and specific details will be announced once they are finalized.

While it will be the first time for FHSU football to make the post-season since 1995, Hammeke is no stranger to bowl games. During his stint as athletic director at Butler County Community College in El Dorado from 1998-2003, the Grizzlies played in bowl games all five years.

"It's a great experience for the kids and the fan base, too," said Hammeke, who is in his 12th year at Fort Hays State.

Opportunities to make history will abound at the bowl game for this Fort Hays State team, which already tied the school record for most victories in a season with its 8-3 regular-season record. A victory over the Bulldogs would give the 2015 Tigers the new school record.

Moments after FHSU received the bowl game invitation Sunday afternoon, the Tiger football team took the floor at Gross Memorial Coliseum, at halftime of the Tiger basketball game vs. the University of Sioux Falls.

Every single member of the Tiger football team was announced, and then PA announcer Ken Windholz roared out the news of the bowl bid, which was greeted with loud cheers.
Soon afterward, the Internet site for the Mineral Water Bowl began taking hits from fans trying to glean information about the game and other activities surrounding the bowl.

A total of 500 tickets were sent to each school, and Hammeke said game tickets for $10 each are available through the FHSU Athletic Department by calling 785-628-4050.

The three-day event includes a Friday evening banquet for the teams, coaches and fans. Tickets for $25 per person can be purchased by contacting Siegel either by phone at 816-630-9225 or by email at rsiegel@estigers.k12.mo.us. The banquet will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Excelsior Springs High School Commons.

Siegel emphasized that while the Mineral Water Bowl website shows a link for buying bowl game merchandise, those items instead will be available for purchase at team headquarters, the historical Elms Hotel & Spa, and at the game. Memorabilia will include T-shirts and sweatshirts, baseball caps and stocking caps, and glassware and coffee mugs.

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