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Winless Tigers 'come together' in loss

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Winless Tigers 'come together' in loss

Published on -9/23/2012, 12:41 AM

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Losing to No. 7 Missouri Western State University 21-3 wasn't fun.

Fort Hays State University senior defensive lineman Aaron Burton will be the first to admit that, but the way his team lost did give him hope.

The winless Tigers (0-4, 0-4 MIAA) hung with one of the best teams in the country for four quarters, and with some help from the offense, FHSU might have even made it a ball game Saturday at Lewis Field Stadium.

"I feel like it's bringing our team closer," Burton said. "Coming up this week, I didn't know if anyone on our team gave up really on the year. I feel like this is a coming back point. Our team sees hope now, so they will try harder."

The loss Saturday concluded a rough four-game stretch that included Emporia State University (4-0), No. 15 Washburn University (3-1), No. 13 Northwest Missouri State University (3-1) and No. 7 Missouri Western (4-0).

The Tigers' 18-point loss was the closest of the season, and it came against the conference's second highest ranked team.

"It's a loss," Burton said. "It's not fun, but it felt like we did accomplish something. We did hang in there. We have a lot of building to do. The atmosphere wasn't so negative as usual, but I feel like we are coming together."

Against Missouri Western, Fort Hays' defense and special teams showed up.

The Tigers' defense bent, surrendering 427 total yards, but didn't break, allowing no touchdowns of 20 yards or more. FHSU's defense held MWSU to its smallest points total of the season, forced two turnovers and stopped Missouri Western on a fourth-and-goal on FHSU's own 1-yard line.

"I thought our defense did a good job of stepping up and making things happen," said FHSU head coach Chris Brown. "We really forced them to drive the field instead of giving up big plays like we have in the past."

FHSU's special teams contained MWSU's returns. Freshman kicker Drew O'Brien, a Thomas More Prep-Marian graduate, made a 48-yard field goal in the second quarter -- FHSU's lone points in the game.

Junior punter Cameron Owens averaged 46 yards per punt, and junior quarterback Tarean Austin even made his debut as a punter, pooching a couple balls inside MWSU's 20-yard line.

And while the offense showed promise at times, the Tigers simply couldn't extend drives deep into Missouri Western territory.

Once the Tigers entered the Griffons' 30- to 40-yard line, it was like they entered the Bermuda Triangle.

Their offense simply vanished.

Whether it was poor passes, bad blocking, penalties or turnovers, the Tigers' drives were stopped short of the red zone.

FHSU only got past Missouri Western's 30-yard line once in the game, and senior tight end Eli Cordon fumbled on that play.

"We just weren't finishing basically," FHSU freshman running back Addie Brown said. "It's really unexplainable. We tried to do everything we can to get in that end zone, and something was just stopping us."

Brown was the Tigers' best offensive weapon. He ran for 87 yards, averaging 7.9 yards per carry, and caught three passes for 13 yards.

Austin completed 17 of 30 passes for 112 yards and ran for 45.

"We are very frustrated," Brown said. "We want to make our mark in this league, and right there, with a top 10 team in the nation and beat them, we can do that. But not doing it, it hurts."

Missouri Western senior running back Michael Hill pounded the Tigers. He carried the ball 26 times for 198 yards, breaking Missouri Western's school records for career rushing yards and career carries.

Hill had multiple long runs, including a 56-yarder, but the Tigers never allowed him to reach the end zone.

"Hill is a great runner," Brown said. "He's got strong legs, good vision. He runs very well, sees things. He can burst out at anytime."

The Griffons scored on their first possession. They marched 85 yards in 13 plays and scored on a 19-yard pass from junior quarterback Travis Partridge to senior wide receiver Kyle Knox with five minutes and 14 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

The Tigers answered in the second quarter with O'Brien's field goal, but Missouri Western responded to that on the next possession with an 11-play, 89-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 17-yard touchdown pass from Partridge to senior wide receiver Tarrell Downing.

The Griffons later extended the lead with 11:32 remaining in the fourth quarter, capping a 12-play, 81-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run by Partridge.

Though his team lost, Brown said he was pleased with his team's progression from Week 1 to Week 4.

"It's probably the most physical game I've seen us play so far," Brown said. "They did an excellent job of staying in the game and fighting until the very end. There were a few costly mistakes with turnovers, and you know penalties hurt us a little bit. We have to eliminate those things if we want to compete with the No. 1 teams in the conference."

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