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Tigers begin final stretch of season

Published on -10/12/2012, 10:24 AM

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Earlier this week, Fort Hays State University football coach Chris Brown addressed the recent past, present and long-term future of his football program.

A difficult 20-17 home loss last Saturday to Lindenwood (Mo.) University dropped the Tigers to 1-5 overall, 1-5 MIAA, and effectively eliminated Fort Hays from postseason contention and a bowl game with five weeks left.

"Win out," senior linebacker A.J. Woodall said of finishing the year. "Live it up. I think that if we just focus on winning, it will make our record look better. That's all it is now. Just play ball."

Late in the contest, junior quarterback Tarean Austin, after playing a solid game, threw an interception at Lindenwood's 4-yard line to seal the loss.

Austin changed the play from a run to a fade pass and Lindenwood All-American cornerback Pierre Desir picked it off. Brown talked with Austin after the contest and then again in a meeting. Offensive coordinator Justin Schreiber also spoke with Austin about being smarter. Brown said Austin will continue to be the starter Saturday at Southwest Baptist (Mo.) University (1-5, 1-5 MIAA). Game time is 2:30 p.m. from Bolivar, Mo.

Austin finished 16 of 32 passing for 174 yards with one touchdown against two interceptions and rushed for 76 yards. He converted two fourth downs on the drive before the turnover.

"You take away those two plays, he had an excellent ballgame," Brown said in his weekly news conference Tuesday.

Secondly, Brown announced redshirt freshman Treveon Albert will be the starter at tailback the rest of the season. Albert was the No. 3 quarterback last fall and a wide receiver to start the year. However, he moved to running back to help true freshman Addie Brown after senior Andre Smith and junior Edward Smith suffered season-ending injuries. Albert took time to learn the nuances of wide receiver, but Coach Brown said the freshman "seemed to adjust faster" when he switched to the backfield.

Albert now leads the Tigers in all-purpose yards (541), catches (13) and is tied with Austin in yards per carry (5.4).

Brown paces the Tigers with 415 rushing yards and 4.6 yards per carry, while Austin is at 294 and Albert has tacked on 226, including 189 in the last two games. Albert also threw a 53-yard double pass for a score two weeks ago.

Coach Brown said Addie Brown would continue to receive playing time. Even when the Smiths return in 2013, Albert could still play in the backfield.

"(Albert) has done excellent," Coach Brown said. "He can do so many things for you. And you can put him at receiver, and he can catch the ball. You can put him at running back and he can run the ball."

Brown also met with his freshmen. He wanted to make sure the players knew they are the future of the program -- and to stick with the Tigers. Fort Hays is now 5-12 in Brown's tenure, but has played significantly better the last three games. Addie Brown, known for his constant smile, called the talk "awesome."

"We are trying to carry these seniors and even juniors out the right way and finish on a positive note and push them to be the best," Addie Brown said. "... This is my family. I don't have any family out in Hays, Kansas. Everyone is spread out, so I have to commit to them as my family."

Last Saturday's loss was a difficult result, especially because the Tigers had five turnovers, including two late.

"We should have won that game," senior defensive back Keke Paul said. "I really believe we was a better team on that field. Taking a loss like that really hurts."

On Tuesday, Fort Hays started practice slowly and sluggish. Coach Brown was worried, but the Tigers improved and finished strong, a positive sign after the loss.

"They are not going to quit," Brown said. "They are going to keep fighting and keep working."

The Tigers' defense, especially Paul, has seen big improvement in the last three weeks. Fort Hays had permitted 44.7 points per game in the first three weeks, but have allowed 20.3 points the last three games. All six teams FHSU has played are at least 4-2. Brown sees a unit where the players are more comfortable, not thinking as much and improved tackling.

"We really just haven't put a lot in," Brown said of the Tigers' 4-2-5 look under first-year defensive coordinator Cooper Harris. "We've kept basically what we have done Week 1 until now. We have added a little bit but not a lot."

Paul, a returning all-MIAA honorable mention selection, hadn't played well in the first half of the season, especially Week 2 against Washburn University. He had an interception, his team-high second of the year, and a pass breakup Saturday.

"After that Washburn game, he felt like he let the team down a little bit," Brown said. "A few plays in the other games, kind of the same thing. But he wants to do well and he has really become a disciplined football player."

SBU, a longtime MIAA member, left the conference in football and became an independent. This past year, the Bearcats, traditionally known for a high-powered offense and a defense that allows plenty of points, returned to the MIAA in football. This year, SBU ranks last in scoring offense (13.7 points/game) and tenth in the 15-team league in scoring defense (30.8). Quarterback Dan Connors has completed 100 of 178 passes for 882 yards with a 5/8 TD/INT ratio.

"They are just steps away from making plays," Brown said. "Either the receiver maybe just drops the ball or goes off of his fingertips."

Last year, Fort Hays lost 30-28 to SBU at home in Week 3, a tough loss that helped keep the Tigers from a bowl game. Woodall has thought back to that game this week. With five contests left in his career, Woodall simply just wants to win.

"I didn't really play good in that game, and I really want some revenge on those guys, especially on their turf," Woodall said.

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