After a whirlwind week for the Missouri Southern football program, it would be easy to think the Lions could be in a state of disarray heading into Saturday’s game against No. 18-ranked Fort Hays State.
Denver Johnson announced his resignation as Missouri Southern head coach early Wednesday morning after an 0-3 start, and defensive coordinator Joe Bettasso was tabbed as interim head coach.
Instead of being shell shocked, FHSU coach Chris Brown said he could see a scenario where the Lions are galvanized by the change.
“Kids are funny. You just don’t know how they’re going to react to it,” Brown said. “They might come out and play their best game of the year because there’s been a change or they might come out and feel sorry for themselves. You just don’t know. But kids are resilient. They always bounce back pretty quick.
“I could see them being excited, being ready for us to come to town and try to knock us off.”
The Lions, who will play host to the Tigers at 6 p.m. Saturday at Fred G. Hughes Stadium, are in the midst of a 16-game losing streak dating back to 2016 and have been outscored 159-13 in their first three games this year, including a 63-0 loss to No. 4 Northwest Missouri State last week.
“Whether we’re ready or not, Fort Hays is going to show up on Saturday, and there’s nothing we can do about it,” Bettasso told the Joplin Globe. “We need to embrace that challenge.”
Despite the Lions’ troubles, FHSU defensive lineman Sheldon Schmidt said the Tigers won’t be taking Southern lightly.
“Personally, from being in the MIAA the last three years, I think that no game is really a weak game,” Schmidt said. “I think all the opponents out there are going to give us our best. We got to prepare as we’re playing a national championship game every week.”
Brown said the Tigers are facing a bit of the unknown with the Southern coaching change.
“You would think they would stay similar, but you never know, with the new guy taking over, what he does,” he said. “So we’re just going to prepare our kids the best that we can offensively and defensively for anything that might throw at us.
“If we’re assignment sound and do our jobs and do what we’re supposed to, things will work out.”
Last week against Washburn, the Tigers gave several series to redshirt freshman quarterback Chance Fuller, who will be the heir apparent to senior Jacob Mezera. Brown said the Tigers want to continue to get Fuller snaps to prepare him to take over for Mezera next season.
“I just think we need to get Chance some reps and get him ready because he is the future at Fort Hays,” Brown said. “I don’t want him to come into Week 1 next year not seeing him play any snaps at all and not knowing what he’s about.
“He’s great in practice, does things well, but you never know until you get into a game of what a kid’s going to do. He did exactly what we thought he was as a competitor (against Washburn). He made the right reads. He can extend some plays. I think moving forward we still got to get him reps and get him prepared to play this game.”
Brown said the Tigers won’t make any drastic changes to the play calling when Fuller is in the game.
“Our offense is our offense, and he runs it very well, just like Jake does,” Brown said. “You don’t want to try to change too much because that affects other players as well. They got to start thinking about other things besides just the game plan for one guy. … You just have to do what you do offensively. As the years go on, we’ll start adding more to his plate.”
Mezera is closing in on FHSU's record for career completions, needing only 18 to catch Mike Garrison's record of 540, set from 2008-2010.