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SPOTLIGHT
FHSU looks for better start

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FHSU looks for better start

Published on -9/7/2012, 10:06 AM

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By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

The first quarter in last week's season opener for the Fort Hays State University football team was similar to many starts from the 2011 season. FHSU fell behind 14-0 to Emporia State University and was outgained 179-38 in the first 15 minutes.

By the 6:19 mark of the first quarter, ESU had run 18 plays for 129 yards and scored twice. Fort Hays had four plays for nine yards. The Tigers eventually lost 41-18.

"We came out pretty flat," senior defensive back Keke Paul said. "But you've got to take your hats off to Emporia, they came out ready to play."

Fort Hays rarely has started quickly in the 12-game tenure of second-year coach Chris Brown. Fort Hays has led after the first quarter just three times under Brown.

Twice FHSU was tied after 15 minutes.

FHSU is 1-8 under Brown when tied or trailing after the first quarter, and 3-0 when it leads after the first quarter.

Overall, opponents have outscored Fort Hays 123-79 in the first 15 minutes.

"We have got to get past those things and work a little harder and get focused," Brown said in his weekly news conference Tuesday. "You have to take it upon yourselves a little bit to get yourselves fired up. Our leaders have to do the same thing with that and our captains."

Starting slowly was a continuing problem in a 4-7 season last fall. Fort Hays trailed after the first quarter in the first four games.

In Week 7, FHSU was down 21-0 to University of Central Missouri after the first 15 minutes. After last Thursday's slow start, Brown and the players aren't sure how to fix the problem.

"I can't figure that out, and that's kids these days," Brown said. "You just can't figure out what is in their mind or what they are thinking. This is opening game, first game of the season, you just worked hard for three weeks. You would think that you would be pretty excited to go out there fired up and get after it."

Senior guard Hawk Rouse, a returning second team all-MIAA player and four-year starter, paused for a few moments after he was asked about the slow starts.

"If you have any suggestions please tell me," Rouse said. "It's not something that if you figure out how to fix it, it's going to automatically happen. It's not like that, I don't think."

"Nothing ever is when it comes to team personalities," he added. "It's got to be something that it will take a couple weeks to transition into, and ... especially with (Tuesday's) practice, we are starting to understand what we need to do to get the energy up, to go out and play like we need to play."

Brown thought last week's slow start possibly happened because of the team making the trip to Emporia -- a distance of slightly more than three hours -- on game day instead of the night before.

Still, the first quarter problems have affected FHSU at home, too. Fort Hays plays host to Washburn University, ranked No. 15 in NCAA Division II at 1-0, 1-0 MIAA, in the home opener Saturday. Game time is 7 p.m. at Lewis Field Stadium. Fort Hays led after the first quarter in just one home game last season.

Fort Hays has looked to add energy in practice and carrying the momentum into the game. In the last week, Brown talked to the players about enjoying football and savoring a chance to play the sport each day.

"I see a lot more enthusiasm and a little bit more pep in everybody else's step with a little sense of urgency," Paul said. "We are coming closer every week. It starts in practice."

Last week, ESU's quick start hurt the Tigers. Emporia's first two scoring drives helped the Hornets tally 85 plays for 534 yards of total offense. Fort Hays could have stayed on the field longer on its first possession, but senior QB Anthony Sheppard narrowly missed a first down on 4th-and-1. FHSU had just one first down in the first quarter.

"If we convert those third-down conversions, we are sitting pretty good and probably have a chance to go down and score," Brown said.

With the game time temperature at 95 degrees, Paul said FHSU's defense grew tired in the first quarter because it had to be on the field for so many plays.

Emporia State tied for the 10th-most plays and ranked 16th in the country in total offense, according to NCAA statistics.

"Sadly, when the defense is out there (85) plays a game, those guys are going to get tired, and they got a little tired and worn out," Brown said.

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