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SPOTLIGHT
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Tigers set to tangle with No. 15 Ichabods

Published on -9/7/2012, 10:08 AM

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By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Senior defensive back/returner Keke Paul, a Fort Hays State University team captain, was one of the Tigers who believed the squad needed a players-only meeting after a season-opening 41-18 road loss to Emporia State University last Thursday.

Such meetings rarely occur after the first game, but Paul and the captains wanted to see a change, a sense of urgency. ESU is an improved squad, but still considered middle of the pack in the MIAA.

Fort Hays now faces three straight ranked teams: Washburn University, Northwest Missouri State University and Missouri Western State University.

On Saturday, FHSU takes on the Ichabods, 1-0 and ranked No. 15 in NCAA Division II, at Lewis Field Stadium. Game time is 7 p.m.

"I believe we shouldn't lose like that opening up," Paul said. "I believe we've really got to take that into consideration that we can't come out like every game. If we do, then we will get whooped. We can't overlook a team, or we will get beat just like that again -- the next three games, really if we don't tighten down and everybody comes together."

Then second-year coach Chris Brown thought his team "was kind of sluggish" in the first practice following the loss. He talked with the squad after the practice. FHSU started to have better practices early this week.

"I know practice has been a little bit more intense, because guys have been getting on each other for making mistakes, and that's what I want to see is holding guys accountable, and that's good to see," Brown said in his weekly news conference Tuesday.

"It feels like we have came closer and we are working harder at what we have got to do," senior defensive tackle Aaron Burton added.

The loss marked the worst season-opening defeat and worst loss to Emporia State since a 52-13 contest in Week 1 of the 2005 season.

"We got our butts whooped, plain and simple," Paul said. "...We came out thinking this is going to be an easy game, but we came and overlooked Emporia."

ESU quarterback Tyler Eckenrode passed for a career-high 414 yards, the first time a quarterback threw for more than 400 yards versus the Tigers since 2005. Offensively, FHSU produced just 303 offensive yards, including 120 on the ground, the second-fewest under Brown.

"Stay back, don't give up the big play," Brown said of the team's approach. "Keep everything in front of us. They had about three or four plays that got us and that hurt us a little bit. When we watched the offense, our quarterbacks overthrew the ball or underthrew the ball and our receivers don't catch the ball."

Fort Hays has lost three straight to Washburn and six of the last seven. The lone victory was a 17-7 Week 3 home win in 2008 when the Ichabods were ranked No. 18 in the country. Since then, FHSU has lost 11 in a row to ranked foes, including four games last year.

"You know they are a good team going into it," Burton said. "You can't think of the past of how good they are this year or last year. You know what you have to do to get things done."

The contest will see a reunion for three Tiger coaches who either coached or played at Washburn. Brown served as Washburn's defensive coordinator for nine seasons before he came to Fort Hays. FHSU defensive coordinator Cooper Harris was in the same position last year with the Ichabods. Tiger defensive line coach Zach Watkins was an All-American linebacker with Washburn. Brown said the hype last year surrounding the Washburn contest "was pretty high," while this season it's different.

"Our kids have got to prepare for just another game," Brown said. "They are a very good football team."

The Ichabods graduated All-American quarterback Dane Simoneau, but still opened the season with a 24-14 home win against University of Nebraska-Kearney, a playoff team last year. Mitch Buhler and Joel Piper combined for 16 of 32 passing for 212 yards with two touchdowns against no interceptions.

"Haven't missed a beat," Brown said. "They are the same pace, the same fast tempo, great running backs still, still have got some great wide receivers, great tight ends, their o-line is very, very good."

The Tigers named junior Tarean Austin the starting quarterback for Saturday. Last week, senior Anthony Sheppard played the first half and Austin the second. Senior running back Andre Smith, the team's leading rusher last year, will likely miss Saturday's contest with a knee sprain suffered versus ESU. Even without Smith, an all-MIAA honorable mention selection last season, FHSU will look for quick improvement after last week's defeat.

"Last week is over," Brown said. "We have got to forget about that and move on, and you've just got to make big strides this week."

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