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Washburn too much for Tigers

By CONOR NICHOLL
cnicholl@dailynews.net

The difference between the MIAA’s elite and middle pack was evident in the first half of Fort Hays State University and Washburn University’s contest Saturday night. The Tigers did little wrong in the opening two quarters.

FHSU collected 167 total yards, punted once and didn’t turn the ball over by interception or fumble.

However, Fort Hays scored just seven points because of a 28-yard missed field goal by sophomore Drew O’Brien and turnover on downs at the Washburn 30. Defensively, FHSU often forced Washburn into third downs.

The Ichabods constantly converted – and made several outstanding catches for scores.

FHSU trailed 31-7 at halftime.  Then FHSU allowed 20 points in the first nine minutes of the third quarter and lost 54-17 at Yager Stadium.

“In the first half, I thought we played well offensively,” third-year coach Chris Brown said. “We’ve just to get the ball into the end zone. We hurt ourselves.”

Fort Hays dropped to 0-2, 0-2 MIAA and Washburn, receiving votes in the NCAA Division II coaches’ poll, improved to 2-0, 2-0 after its second straight blowout victory.

FHSU has lost its first two games by a combined score of 97-30. The next two weeks come against top-10 opponents Northwest Missouri State University and Missouri Western State University; Brown said he believes the Tigers' first four opponents are the MIAA’s top four squads.

“It always should be a lot closer,” sophomore quarterback Treveon Albert said. “We beat ourselves offensively and defensively. The same stuff that happened last week, some of the same stuff happened this week. The offense got a little bit better, but we just didn’t get the ball in the end zone when we needed to.”

Sophomore guard Jarred Stindt, the lone returning starting offensive lineman, left the game early with an apparent knee injury and was on crutches after the contest. Freshmen Mason Dickey and Jordan McDonald and sophomore Luke Edney all saw plenty of time.

“They are ready to play, and they are fine,” sophomore tight end Zack Gaughan said. “Just the whole lack of experience thing I think is getting to us. We have got guys that can play. They are talented enough and they are strong enough and they are big enough. They can do the job.”

During the week, Brown focused on third down — both Fort Hays converting on the down and the Tigers stopping the opponent. Instead, the struggles continued. Washburn converted nine of 10 third downs by halftime, 13 of 18 for the game.

“They gave the quarterback time to throw the ball,” Brown said. “He sits back there and finds his receiver. We didn’t get a lot of pressure on the quarterback. When you don’t get pressure on the quarterback, and he has time to sit back, it is going to be tough on your secondary.”

On the game’s first possession, Washburn converted two third downs of six and 10 yards and Justin Linn kicked a 38-yard field goal. FHSU drove down the field, but O’Brien missed his first attempt of the season.

Washburn pushed the lead to 10-0 on the ensuing possession when junior Mitch Buhler found senior Matt Kobbeman from 15 yards.

FHSU scored at the 14 minute, 22 mark of the second quarter when Gaughan caught a 16-yard score from Albert. Gaughan, a Hays High School product, finished with five catches for 69 yards. He had just one catch and no scores in his career entering Saturday.

“We wanted to get them into play action situations, and we did that,” Brown said.

After the TD, the Ichabods rolled off 44 straight points. Washburn's first punt came with 8:09 remaining in the game.

“I thought we had them where we wanted them,” Gaughan said. “…Everything just kind of went downhill from there. In that first quarter, I feel like we started off better than we have been starting off.”

FHSU pulled Albert after he threw four interceptions in the second half and sophomore Edin Kovac finished the game in his first Tiger action. He threw a two-yard score to senior Keaton Callins with 6:11 left.

Buhler finished 19 of 27 for 272 yards and five TDs, one off the school record, before he left the game midway through the third quarter.

“I made some horrible passes,” Albert said. “We had the spark early in the game and everything wasn’t going our way. We were still making good reads, still moving the ball. We just couldn’t get in the end zone.”

Following Gaughan’s score, Washburn converted four third downs on its next drive. The last one resulted in a 7-yard TD pass to senior Tore’ Hurst and a 17-7 lead. FHSU moved into Ichabod territory, but Albert slightly overthrew senior Tanner Hageman on fourth down.

Washburn moved the score to 24-7 on a 14-yard pass to junior DaJuan Beard. FHSU covered Beard well, but he made a diving catch in the right corner of the end zone.

“Something that we have got to improve on is just not letting one thing lead to another bad thing,” Gaughan said.

Washburn moved the lead to 31-7 just before half when sophomore Jordan Hart gained slight separation on the Tiger secondary, hauled in a long pass on his fingertips and scored from 49 yards. Sophomore linebacker Justin McPhail said the Tigers “just got beat” on several 1-on-1 plays, and said a few others were “mental busts.”

“Ultimately, I feel like coach Brown and the coaching staff are doing everything to help us be successful,” McPhail said. “We’ve just got to start making plays and making some things happen.”

In the second half, Washburn scored on first three possessions, the first two after Albert interceptions. Junior Vershon Moore collected a 65-yard TD run. Moore had served the last two yards in jail after a guilty plea for robbing a bank.

FHSU will play host to Northwest Missouri at 7 p.m. Saturday night at Lewis Field Stadium.