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Miscues hurting Tigers in 0-3 start

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Late in the first quarter of Saturday's game at Lewis Field Stadium, Fort Hays State University senior wide receiver Tanner Hageman hauled in a pass from sophomore quarterback Treveon Albert. Hageman turned up field and sprinted down the left sideline.

After a 40-yard gain, Hageman saw Northwest Missouri State University's Bryce Enyard. Hageman went to stiff arm Enyard, who Hageman said reached around and grabbed his face mask.

No penalty was called and Hageman fumbled. The ball bounced a few yards and Hageman fell on it, but couldn't corral it. The ball rolled down his body, Enyard recovered and Northwest Missouri took over at the Bearcat 20-yard line.

It marked Hageman's first fumble in college. His best friend was at the game and asked Hageman, from Cheney, when was the last time the wideout fumbled.

"I don't even remember the last time I even fumbled in high school," Hageman said. "Obviously, it's happened. (My friend) was joking with me, because he is a lineman. He was like, 'Well, I have never fumbled.' That was a huge play and a huge swing."

The turnover was one of several miscues for the Tigers in a 49-14 loss to the Bearcats, ranked No. 3 in NCAA Division II. FHSU has moved the ball well, but turnovers, penalties, three blocked kicks (two on field goals) and choosing to punt on some fourth-and-shorts have limited the Tigers' offense.

Fort Hays is 0-3, 0-3 MIAA and averages 314 yards and 14.7 points per game against three teams ranked in the top 25 in Emporia State University, Washburn University and Northwest Missouri. On Saturday, the Tigers travel to No. 6 ranked Missouri Western State University (3-0). Start time is 6 p.m. in St. Joseph, Mo.

Last season, the Tigers opened 0-3 against the same three teams and averaged 257 yards and 16.1 points per contest.

"We moved the ball very well," third-year coach Chris Brown said Tuesday night at the team's weekly news conference. "We've just got to quit shooting ourselves in the foot with turnovers and penalties. If we can eliminate those things, we can put a few more points on the board."

Among the positives, Albert had a solid game Saturday, senior running back Andre Smith rushed for 107 yards and FHSU averaged 5.6 yards per rush. But FHSU had three fumbles and another blocked kick.

Yards per point is a measure of offensive efficiency. The Tigers average 21.4 yards per point this season. The previous four years, FHSU averaged 15.1, 14.9, 16.1 and 11.7 yards per point. It was 16 yards per point in the first three games last season.

"As we are moving, everybody has that drive and that will," Albert said. "As we get closer and closer, it just seems like we get a little bit down, like we are not sure if we can get it in. I feel like if we go a little bit harder, we can get the ball in the end zone."

Fort Hays has lost 10 turnovers, second-most in the 14-team MIAA, and is tied for last in turnover margin at minus-8.

FHSU is 1 of 3 on field goals with two blocked kicks and one extra point blocked with sophomore kicker Drew O'Brien. All three kicks have come inside 30 yards. Hageman, the holder, said the timing has been solid from the center to the kick.

"Our pad level I think more than anything," Hageman said. "We have a bunch of defensive guys that are playing on PAT block that don't necessarily know the basic fundamentals of the O-line.

That has been a little bit of the issue. Most of the part is pad level and realizing, 'Yes, this is a chance to score, we can't take this play off.'

Fort Hays has changed personnel up front on field goals and many of the players haven't received much work yet. In practice, FHSU brings a full, live rush, but O'Brien has had no blocks.

"We are turning shoulders and opening up seams and when you do that, you are going to create a lane for those guys to come through and block it," Brown said. "It's something that we have got to work a little bit harder on."

Throughout his tenure, Brown has usually chosen to punt on fourth down. Senior Cameron Owens punted seven times Saturday. On four punts, the Tigers had fourtth-and-4 at the Northwest 45, fourth-and-6 at the Fort Hays 40, fourth-and-3 at the Tiger 37 and fourth-and-2 at the Northwest 44.

"I would like to get to the point where we can go for those," Brown said. "I just don't want to put our defense in a bad spot with a short field. If we can pin (the opponent) deep, get a three-and-out, make them punt back to us, now we've got another short field to go score on. I am just trying to play the field position battle."