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Tigers drop close one

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Fort Hays State University football coach Chris Brown met senior quarterback Anthony Sheppard just inside the interview room after Saturday's 14-12 home loss on Senior Day to University of Central Missouri at Lewis Field Stadium.

Brown hugged his quarterback and told him, "I'm proud of you."

Sheppard said, "I tried."

In an odd game that featured three missed field goals, two Tiger punts that traveled less than 10 yards and a couple of controversial penalties, especially one late, Sheppard nearly led the Tigers to a fourth consecutive victory.

An offensive pass interference penalty on FHSU changed the complexion of the game and eventually forced Fort Hays to run out of timeouts. FHSU had a chance to tie the game with 3:44 left, but couldn't score on a two-point conversion.

Instead, FHSU lost its seventh straight to Central Missouri.

Fort Hays dropped to 4-6, 3-6 MIAA, while Central Missouri finished the season at 6-4, 6-4 MIAA.

"We just had a few chances that we've got to capitalize on," Brown said.

Sheppard has encountered a frustrating season and played multiple positions, including starting quarterback, cornerback, running back and earned MIAA Special Teams Player of the Week after he scored two TDs off blocked punts two weeks ago.

On Saturday, he started the game at running back, but took over under center after junior starting quarterback Tarean Austin hurt his ankle with 6 minutes, 41 seconds left in the contest.

Sheppard, who had played running back all game, took over under center. In his first significant playing time at QB since Week 1, he immediately provided life to a team that hadn't scored an offensive touchdown in the contest.

"Any position, I want to have the ball in my hand and be in the driver's seat, because I feel like if I am driving, everybody is safe," Sheppard said. "I am going to make it a safe trip for everybody."

Two plays after Austin was hurt, Sheppard threw a 33-yard TD pass to redshirt freshman Treveon Albert. However, the play was called back because of offensive pass interference, a call that drew ire from the fan base and Tiger sideline.

"There wasn't no penalty," Sheppard said. "That's the refs. You can go your way sometimes and you can go the other way and it just went the other way. ... You can't complain about the refs because if we would have took care of business earlier in the game, we wouldn't have even been in that situation."

"Honestly, at the moment, I don't feel like I committed a penalty or anything like that," Albert added.

After the penalty, Sheppard completed a 10-yard pass, collected a 21-yard run and then threw a pass to senior Cornelius Gallon in the end zone. This time, officials called Central Missouri for defensive pass interference, giving FHSU a first-and-goal at the 2-yard line. Sheppard eventually scored on a 6-yard run with 3:44 left to cut the game to 14-12.

Sheppard finished with 12 carries for 80 yards, both team-highs, and completed 4 of 6 passes for 54 yards. Austin completed 20 of 38 passes for 168 yards and an interception, and rushed seven times for 42 yards.

"I was in the zone," Sheppard said. "My mind was 'Win this game.' It's now or never. I really wasn't thinking about (anything) but first downs, first downs, touchdowns. I wasn't going to be denied any yards. I had to get that first down. That's what my mind was focused on."

On the two-point conversion, Fort Hays first ran a formation that had nine players spread out wide and just two - senior lineman Hawk Rouse and Sheppard - near the ball. Brown said the Tigers had ran the play twice, against Southwest Baptist (Mo.) University and South Dakota School of Mines, and had scored TDs both times. This time FHSU used the open formation, which they hadn't shown before. Central Missouri called timeout.

"Our original play was our two-point special play, our burst, but they got the timeout in just in time to adjust to it, so we had to go back on the play board and draw something new," Sheppard said. "Basically, that whole drive, we drew up the whole board."

Then, Fort Hays lined up in a more traditional set - and had to call timeout, its third and final of the half.

After the second stoppage, Sheppard threw an incomplete pass across the middle. Fort Hays couldn't recover the onside kick and Central Missouri ran out the clock. Fort Hays dropped to 2-2 in games decided by three points or fewer.

"It was there," Brown said. "A miscue with the quarterback not seeing. I think Treveon was wide open. We've just got to hit it and score."