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SPOTLIGHT
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Tigers travel to South Dakota

Published on -10/26/2012, 10:16 AM

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By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Before a play late in the first quarter of last Saturday's home contest against Lincoln (Mo.) University, Fort Hays State University senior defensive back Keke Paul believed he would have an interception.

Lincoln threw the ball down the middle and Paul trailed the receiver. Paul picked off the pass and returned it 42 yards to the Lincoln 4-yard line.

Fort Hays junior quarterback Tarean Austin eventually ran it in for the score and a 21-6 Tiger lead. FHSU went on to win 28-26. The interception was another big defensive/special teams play for Paul and the Tigers.

The receiver "came in like on a slant, so I broke on the ball behind it," Paul said. "I had a feeling that it was going to go right through his hands, because they had been dropping balls all game, so I just stayed right behind him, so that way I can make a play.

"If it came through his hands, I would be there for the pick," he added. "When it came through, I kind of tipped it to myself. It was crazy."

In addition to the interception, Paul blocked a first-quarter field goal, one of four blocks in the contest for Fort Hays. That included two blocked punts returned for scores from senior backup quarterback Anthony Sheppard. Fort Hays now has six blocked kicks, the most in a single season since 1997, when it also had six.

It was the first time Fort Hays returned two blocked punts for scores in the same game since a 1995 contest against Emporia State University when FHSU recovered two punts in the end zone.

The victory moved Fort Hays to 3-5, 3-5 MIAA.

On Saturday, the Tigers have their lone non-conference game of the year when they travel to South Dakota School of Mines (2-5) in Rapid City, S.D. Game time is 2 p.m.

"They are very, very disciplined, and they are very, very sound in what they do," second-year coach Chris Brown said in his weekly news conference Tuesday. "They don't make a lot of mistakes. They have got a great offense. It's ran very well. It's a zone-read team with some option."

The Hardrockers are playing an independent schedule as they transition to NCAA Division II. They are 0-3 against Division I/II squads. Fort Hays left Thursday and will practice and see Mt. Rushmore today as part of the year's longest road trip. Freshman running back Treveon Albert (IT band/knee) will make the trip after he missed last week's game, but might be limited to wide receiver. Junior wideout Tanner Hageman (shoulder) should play, too. Freshman Shaquille Cooper, who rushed for 115 yards on 13 carries last week in his first start at tailback, is expected to see significant carries again.

"I believe everybody is dreading the trip," Paul said. "I have never been to South Dakota myself. When I saw that team on the schedule and saw that we were away, I was like, 'South Dakota? I have never even been there before.' ... I wish they would play here, but you have got to handle business."

In addition to the blocks Saturday, Paul had another solid day with kickoff returns. He had four kickoffs for 92 yards, including a 40-yarder. For the season, Paul, a returning all-MIAA honorable mention selection at defensive back, has three interceptions for 109 yards and, helped by solid blocking, has averaged 26.7 yards a kickoff.

Among players that have picked off three passes, Paul stands second in the MIAA and 13th nationally in interception yards. He ranks fourth in the conference and 32nd nationally in kickoff return average. Fort Hays stands 41st nationally in kickoff return average (22.3) and 45th in punt return average (11.7). It marks the third straight season FHSU has improved its kickoff and punt return average.

"They have done a good job of getting on their blocks and getting those guys time to really find the hole and get up in there and create some seams for those guys to get through," Brown said. "We work quite a bit in practice, and those guys do a good job of opening up the lanes in practice and our guys seeing them."

Last week, Sheppard's two blocked punts marked the Tigers' first defensive/special teams TDs since 2009. Paul has come close a couple times this season, but hasn't scored yet.

An interception "it's just like a return to me," Paul said. "I've just got to set up my blockers. But I need to get to the end zone. That's what I need to do. Always falling short."

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