Not a good start for Tigers; FHSU falls to Emporia
Published on -8/31/2012, 10:32 AM
By CONOR NICHOLL
EMPORIA -- With 6:19 left in the first quarter, Emporia State University senior quarterback Tyler Eckenrode rolled out to his right. He could either pitch to a running back or keep the ball himself in the zone-read option. Fort Hays State University junior bandit backer Zach Nash followed the play.
Eckenrode faked a pitch to the right -- and Nash bit. Eckenrode had a wide-open lane and ran in from nine yards out for a touchdown. Nash turned to the Tiger sideline and threw up his hands in frustration.
The play encapsulated a difficult night for the Tigers, especially on the defensive side. Eckenrode, the MIAA's most experienced returning quarterback, set a career high for passing yards and continually made big plays versus Fort Hays. FHSU fell 41-18 in the 2012 season opener on Thursday night at Welch Stadium. Fort Hays lost for the sixth straight time in Emporia and saw its five-game winning streak in season openers end.
"We just need to execute better on defense and tackle better," second-year Tiger coach Chris Brown said. "I just didn't think that we came out real aggressive and real physical and that's the type of team that I want is a physical team and an aggressive team."
Playing in his 30th career game, Eckenrode finished 23 of 37 for 414 yards with two passing touchdowns and a rushing score.
He became the first Hornet quarterback to exceed 400 yards passing since 2004. Emporia State outgained FHSU 534-303 and had 29 first downs, 13 more than the Tigers.
Afterward, the Tigers called a players-only meeting in the locker room. A turnaround is likely needed quickly. FHSU has national powers Washburn University, Northwest Missouri State University and Missouri Western State University in the next three weeks.
"We didn't want any of the coaches in there," senior defensive lineman Aaron Burton, who recorded a sack and forced fumble, said. "We have got to take things into our own hands. Us seniors got to pick it up and pick everyone else up and when they are down, we can't let them just hang their heads and just give up."
FHSU started slowly and trailed 13-0 at the end of the first quarter. Fort Hays started senior Anthony Sheppard, the returning starter, over junior Tarean Austin, but the Tigers had trouble moving the ball. ESU held a 179-38 yardage edge after the first quarter. Brown said the Tigers "didn't come out ready to play."
"I thought that we came out a little sluggish," Brown said. "I don't know if it was the bus ride. Maybe we should have come down the night before, but who knows? You can always guess on that. I thought we played slow at first and we finally brought it on towards the end."
The second quarter was filled with turnovers and missed opportunities. Six straight possessions ended in a miscue. Overall, both teams had three fumbles and lost two. Each squad threw one interception. FHSU blocked a field goal and muffed a punt, while Emporia State blocked two extra points in the contest.
"Way too many mistakes today," Brown said. "We turned the ball over too much."
Fort Hays received its lone points of the first half on a 47-yard field goal from freshman Drew O'Brien, a Thomas More Prep-Marian graduate, with 5:51 left in the second quarter. Later, O'Brien also narrowly missed from 47 yards and converted from 34. Sheppard finished 8-of-13 passing with 91 yards with one interception and five rushes for 12 yards. In the second half, FHSU turned to Austin, a transfer from NCAA Division I University of New Mexico.
"We had to change things up and mix it up a little bit and get things rolling a little bit with Tarean," Brown said. "He came in and did a good job."
Austin led three scoring drives and finished 8-of-18 passing for 92 yards with one touchdown against zero interceptions. He rushed three times for 19 yards. Austin was a little strong on some throws and overthrew a couple receivers. Brown didn't declare a starter for next week, saying he would have review film first.
"I have confidence in whoever is the starter," Austin said. "Shepp, he does a great job leading his team and if my number get called, I fill in for Shepp and try to do better."
FHSU closed within 20-12 with 1:37 remaining in the third quarter on a 34-yard field goal from O'Brien, but Eckenrode opened the margin when he directed three more drives before he sat out most of the fourth quarter.
"He gets better every year," Brown said. "He is just a great player. He doesn't make many mistakes."
FHSU had multiple breakdowns in the secondary and allowed senior Shjuan Richardson to catch six passes for 148 yards, and junior Ray Ray Davis to have four catches for 84 yards.
The final margin could have been worse, but Austin rushed for a 2-yard score with five seconds left to close the gap.
"Lack of execution and us just not knowing our assignments," Burton said. "We came out poorly. Don't get me wrong, they are a good offense. It's just that we came out flat, didn't have any excitement about it."