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Tigers look for better special teams

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

The special teams miscues came in a flurry for the Fort Hays State University football team last Saturday against Missouri Western State University. The Griffons scored on the first drive of the second half for a 28-14 lead.

On the kickoff, the Tigers took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that forced FHSU to start the drive at its own 12-yard line.

The Tigers gained 2 yards before they had to punt. Secondly, Fort Hays senior punter Cameron Owens fell on his own 1-yard line. The Griffons scored on the next play for a 35-14 lead.

"You can't dig yourself a hole," Tiger coach Chris Brown said.

On the next kickoff, FHSU had its third special teams error. Missouri Western delivered a high, short kickoff that sophomore tight end Zack Gaughan fumbled at the Tiger 29-yard line.

Three plays later, the Griffons scored for a 42-14 lead. Late in the game, the Griffons had its final score off a fake punt attempt that netted minus-6 yards.

"We did make it easy for them -- our turnovers on special teams," Brown said.

In addition, FHSU allowed a kickoff for a score earlier in the contest. As well, Fort Hays completed a 9-yard pass to the Missouri Western 1-yard line, but an illegal block resulted in a 15-yard penalty.

Then a sack on third down forced a 52-yard missed field goal by sophomore Drew O'Brien en route to a 52-21 Fort Hays loss.

"There's 24 points alone on special teams that we gave up," Brown said.

Fort Hays (0-4, 0-4 MIAA) had trouble in several areas the first three games, namely big plays and turnovers. Last week, the Tigers had 307 yards of total offense, just 92 fewer than the Griffons. But special teams proved the big difference.

"It's very frustrating, because we played pretty well that first half, except for a few mistakes and to come out that first four minutes and just kill ourselves, it's frustrating as a coach to see that," Brown said. "I think it's frustrating as a player as well. Those are things that we have just got to overcome and learn from and get better from, and hopefully our kids do that."

Sophomore quarterback Treveon Albert delivered a 105 passing efficiency on 23 of 39 passing for 183 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

"Treveon is playing much better," junior running back Edward Smith said. "He has just got to get his confidence, and he is starting to get his confidence up. Players are starting to talk to him and let him know that he can really do it, so he has been making big-time plays for us recently."

The Griffons didn't have an offensive play longer than 26 yards.

"We had some good talks about that, I let them know that they are not to get beat deep ever again," Brown said. "Keep everything in front. Our kids did those things."

On Saturday, the Tigers play their annual Homecoming game against Willam Jewell (Mo.) College (1-3) at 7 p.m. at Lewis Field Stadium.

"If we play like we did in the (third) quarter of last week's game, we are going to get stomped," junior bandit backer Zach Nash said. "I think we all know that. Coach Brown harps on it."

It marks the first meeting between the two schools. Fort Hays has played the No. 2 schedule in the country.

"We can't take anyone lightly," Gaughan said. "We have to treat this game just like as if it is the No. 1 team in the country."

Fort Hays did fumble a kickoff in Week 3, have two extra points and one field goal blocked in the first three games. Owens ranks eighth in the 14-team MIAA in net punting at 34.7 yards. The Tigers spend plenty of time on special teams, but mistakes continue.

"We really focus on special teams," Brown said. "We spend 20-25 minutes a day just on special teams alone, and you look at a week, that's almost an hour or an hour and a half, spent just on special teams by itself, and we made a little mistake, and our kids have got to be able to overcome adversity."