Rare occurrence fuels Tigers' win
Published on -10/24/2012, 11:21 AM
By CONOR NICHOLL
Throughout last week, Fort Hays State University football coach Chris Brown told his team Lincoln (Mo.) University was "pretty good" on offense and "really good" on defense.
"It's going to come down to special teams this week, and the funny thing is, that's what it came down to," Brown recalled in his weekly news conference Tuesday.
Fort Hays blocked four kicks -- two punts, an extra point and a field goal -- and earned a 28-26 home victory versus Lincoln on Saturday. Senior backup quarterback Anthony Sheppard returned both of the punts for scores and earned MIAA Special Teams Player of the Week. Both of the scores came in the first quarter. Fort Hays moved to 3-5, 3-5 MIAA, while Lincoln dropped to 1-6, 1-6.
It's the second time in Brown's career that a position switch led to an award. In 2008, when Brown was the Washburn University defensive coordinator, the Ichabods had multiple injuries at outside linebacker. Washburn moved wideout Brad Cole for defense and he collected MIAA Defensive Player of the Week honors.
"I can't say that at all," Sheppard said of thinking he would ever win a special teams award. "Not one day, not one moment, not one second. It's just something that happened, being in the right place at the right time."
The Tigers' achievement was a rare occurrence, but it's unknown whether FHSU set a conference or even a school record for total blocks in a game.
The NCAA and the MIAA only tracks blocked punts and blocked field goals in a game, not total blocked kicks. It did mark FHSU's first defensive/special teams score since Week 4 of 2009.
"If we don't get those blocks, we don't score," Brown said. "That was huge for us. We have got to continue to do that, though."
The conference record for most punts blocked in a contest is three, set on Sept. 16, 1995, in a game between Southwest Baptist (Mo.) University and Northwest Missouri State University. The blocked field goals record is two and has been accomplished twice.
"That's very rare," senior defensive back Keke Paul said. "I have never seen a player in my life score two special teams touchdowns on a punt block. I don't think anybody else has. When I heard Sheppard scored that second touchdown, I was like, 'Dang.' I was kind of jealous."
Sheppard, the starting quarterback last year and the starter in Week 1, didn't start the season on special teams. Brown said Sheppard has played special teams "quite a bit" in the last four weeks.
"He is so athletic and has got such speed that we have got to use him anyway we can," Brown said. "We have got to get him on the field, just because he is a pretty talented kid, so if we continue to do that with him, that gives him more playing time as well, and he gets a chance to use his explosiveness and it showed on those two punts."
Sheppard had played on punt and kickoff return in his career, but never on punt block before this fall. Sheppard admitted he "hated" the change at first.
"I ain't going to lie," Sheppard said. "I didn't like it. I didn't like it at all. It's a team effort and sometimes you have to make sacrifices. Look what it got me this week. Sometimes changes are good."
On the first punt, redshirt freshman Shaquille Cooper came through a big hole for the block. Brown said FHSU knew the Lincoln center would step to his left (Cooper's right). Brown wanted Fort Hays junior Jeremy Jones to pin the center briefly, which would allow Cooper to break free.
"It's something that we used when I was at Washburn and I thought that it was going to be open and we really widened (our players) to really get their guards and tackles and wings to set out far, so that the gap would open up even more and it worked for us," Brown said.
On the second punt, sophomore Seth Klausmeyer, the starting long snapper, blocked the ball. On the first one, Sheppard picked up the bouncing ball in the end zone. This time, Sheppard dashed 25 yards for the TD.
"Going into that block, I had a good feeling that someone was going to break free again," Klausmeyer said. "Because on that first one, Shaq came right up the middle. I knew that personal protector was going to be looking at the middle. I was a little bit on the edge, so I got a good jump off the ball and just kind of beat my guy and I saw the chance and I dove for it."
Brown said it was a similar situation to the first block. Brown noticed Lincoln was worried about the inside gap, so the Blue Tiger guard "sat hard."
"I told our guys, somebody is going to be open if you just go hard to the block point," Brown said. "They are going to have to adjust somehow and that was their adjustment, and when the guard sat hard, that led Klausmeyer to get to the block point."