Tigers travel to Missouri to take on Truman
Published on -9/28/2012, 9:13 AM
By CONOR NICHOLL
Fort Hays State University football coach Chris Brown didn't even pause when he thought back to last year's Week 2 road game at Truman State (Mo.) University. The words came tumbling out for 39 seconds. He recalled FHSU allowing a sack on the game's first play. Fort Hays then went three-and-out and the Bulldogs blocked the punt.
On the first play after the block, the Tigers nearly had an interception. Instead, Truman retained possession and later scored. The teams exchanged the lead and Fort Hays led 31-29 with 13 minutes, 33 seconds left in the contest. Four minutes and five seconds later, Truman scored the eventual final points for a 36-31 lead.
"Seems like it was back and forth," Brown said in his weekly news conference Tuesday.
Late in the game, on third down and five from the Bulldog 30-yard line, FHSU tight end Grant Brown dropped a pass that would have given the Tigers a first down. The final mistake came on Fort Hays' last time it had the ball when Keke Paul fumbled a punt at the Tiger 37-yard line.
"It was just one thing after another," Brown said.
Then, Brown paused and laughed.
"I guess I remember that game pretty well," he said.
The loss, coupled with a 30-28 last-second home defeat to Southwest Baptist (Mo.) University, were the only times Fort Hays lost to squads that didn't make the playoffs or a bowl game in 2011. The Tigers finished 4-7. At least one win in those two games could have improved the chances at a bowl bid.
Two victories would have yielded a winning record in Brown's first season.
"That really hurt us," senior bandit backer Layton Hickel said. "I just remember that we made key mistakes that just hurt us in the end. We've got to eliminate those this year when we go up there. It's a tough place to play. Every place is in the MIAA, and they are a good team."
On Saturday, Fort Hays (0-4, 0-4 MIAA) will travel to Truman State (3-1, 2-1 MIAA) for a 1 p.m. kickoff at Stokes Stadium in Kirksville, Mo. It will be the last MIAA game between the two teams. Truman State, a charter member of the league, is leaving for the Great Lakes Valley Conference next year.
The contest is a shift from the Tigers' brutal first month that produced the nation's second toughest strength of schedule, according to masseyratings.com. Fort Hays' first four opponents have a collective 14-2 record and the quartet is either ranked in the top-25 or receiving votes in the NCAA Division II coaches' poll.
In FHSU's final seven games, only University of Central of Missouri in Week 10 is ranked in the top-25 or receiving votes. The opponents have a cumulative record of 10-18.
"We know that we can win every game out," Hickel said. "We feel confident in the teams that are coming up, but it's the MIAA and every team is good. so you can't take any opponent lightly."
Truman State, 4-7 in the last two falls under third-year coach Gregg Nesbitt, has started strong, but lost 38-17 on the road to Central Missouri last week in the CBS Sports Network Division II TV Game of the Week. That contest marked the Bulldogs' first test against an upper-tier opponent. One aspect that helped Central Missouri in the victory was team speed, a trait of many top MIAA teams.
"I don't think we are even close to where I want to be yet," Brown said of the Tigers' team speed. "Truman, I think we match up pretty evenly with. They are a very good team, and I think we are a pretty good team as well. Speed-wise, I think that we are pretty much even on both sides of the ball. You never know till Saturday."
Massey ranks Central Missouri as the No. 6 team in the country. The Bulldogs' three wins came against teams that average a 114 Massey rating. Fort Hays' first four opponents average a 12.8 Massey rating with three teams in the top 10.
Still, Truman has plenty of playmakers, including All-American senior defensive back Michael Elliott, who is tied for first nationally with four interceptions, including one for a score last week.
Truman stands in the top-five in the conference in multiple statistics, including scoring offense (36.5 points/game) and scoring defense (21.2 points/game). Bulldog quarterback Conrad Schottel completed 57 of 101 passes for 729 yards with an 8/5 TD/INT ratio, but missed more than half of the Central Missouri game because of injury. The Bulldogs' depth chart still lists Schottel as the starter for Saturday.
"They are very, very good," Brown said. "They have got a good QB, he sees things well."
The Tigers have struggled some on both lines -- "We've got to win the battle in the trenches," Brown said --and are tied for 12th in the 15-team MIAA in tackles for loss. Plus, Fort Hays has been penalized 27 times for 218 yards.
It's a mark that ranks just 56th in the country, but the flags have come at inopportune times, especially in opponents' territory. This year's averages of 6.8 flags and 55 penalty yards per game are slightly more than last season's averages of six penalties and 53.4 yards a contest.
"Maybe they need to go bless it or do something to it in that area," Brown said of the opponents' 30-yard line, an area where many Tiger drives have stalled. "We've got to do a better job there. It just seems like we always have a false start at that time or we get a holding call, or it's a chop block, or we drop a pass, or we fumble. It's one thing after another."
Fort Hays already had been whistled for 12 false start/offsides penalties, one more than it had after four games last year. Senior guard John 'Hawk' Rouse, a four-year starter and returning second team all-MIAA selection, has four flags, while senior tackle Logan Jones, in his second year as a FHSU starter, has two.
Last week, the Tigers had four offsides/false starts in a 21-3 loss to Missouri Western State University, ranked No. 7 nationally. Similar mistakes cost FHSU last year in a frustrating loss to Truman.
"Probably the best D-line we have played all year," Brown said of Missouri Western.
"I thought we played pretty well against these guys, except for the false starts."