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Tigers fall in season opener

Published on -8/30/2012, 10:37 PM

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By CONOR NICHOLL
cnicholl@dailynews.net

EMPORIA – With 6:19 left in the first quarter, Emporia State University senior quarterback Tyler Eckenrode rolled out to his right. He could either pitch to a running back or keep the ball himself. Fort Hays State University junior bandit backer Zach Nash followed the play.

Eckenrode faked a pitch to the right – and Nash bit. Eckenrode had a wide-open lane and ran in from nine yards out for a touchdown. Nash turned to the Tiger sideline and threw up his hands in frustration.

The play encapsulated a difficult night for the Tigers, especially on the defensive side. Eckenrode, the MIAA’s most experienced returning quarterback, set a career high for passing yards and continually made big plays versus Fort Hays. FHSU fell 41-18, in the 2012 season opener on Thursday night at Welch Stadium.

Fort Hays lost for the sixth straight time in Emporia.

Playing in his 30th career game, Eckenrode finished 23-of-37 passing for 414 yards with two passing touchdowns. He became the first Hornet quarterback to exceed 400 yards passing since 2004.

Fort Hays’ defense made several big plays, and in a turnover-filled second quarter had a blocked field goal from senior Kyle Perry. But the Hornets led 13-0 after the first quarter and outgained Fort Hays’ 179-38. The Tigers trailed 17-3 at halftime after a 47-yard field goal from freshman Drew O’Brien. Senior quarterback Anthony Sheppard started the first half, while junior quarterback Tarean Austin took over after intermission.

FHSU closed within 20-12 with 1:37 remaining in the third quarter on a 34-yard field goal from O’Brien, but Eckenrode widened the margin when he directed three more drives before sitting out most of the fourth quarter. Austin rushed for a 2-yard score with 5.6 seconds left to close the gap. The extra point was blocked, one of two extra points blocked by ESU.
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