With their destiny in their own hands, the Fort Hays State Tigers could soon be right back on top in the MIAA and in position to repeat as conference champs.
At the same time, one slip up could cripple those title aspirations.
With a clash against Pittsburg State looming next week, the Tigers (4-1) are doing their best to avoid peeking ahead, trying to keep focus on the matchup with Emporia State at 2 p.m. Saturday in ESU's Welch Stadium.
“We’ve already had one of those this year and that was with Mo West. We looked past them a little bit on to the next one,” FHSU coach Chris Brown said, referencing a 23-13 loss at Missouri Western in Week 2. “That’s something you can’t do. We’re going to make sure that doesn’t happen this week. We don’t need another slip up.”
Brown said Emporia State's 2-3 record isn't indicative of the kind of team it is.
“They’re good, especially with Braxton Marstall back there at quarterback,” Brown said. “That kid is just a phenomenal athlete — runs very well, makes quick decisions, gets out and extends plays. He’s very, very dangerous.
“He’s got some very good wide receivers. The O-line protects him — they don’t protect him very long because he gets the ball out so quick. He doesn’t get hit a lot. It’s going to be a tough chore for our defense coming up.”
Marstall and the Hornets are looking to regain their offensive footing after being shutout 41-0 at Northwest Missouri last week. The senior quarterback has thrown for 894 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions while completing 54 percent of his passes.
ESU running back Landon Nault ranks second in the MIAA in rushing with 452 yards.
“They’re going to be physical and try to run on our defense a lot,” FHSU cornerback Aquil Knowles said. “But I’m 100 percent sure that’s not going to work because one thing most teams can’t do is run on us. I’m pretty sure we’re going to eliminate that aspect from their game.”
The Tigers are coming off their first shutout in 10 years with a 15-0 win against Central Oklahoma last week. They are sitting one game back of 5-0 Pittsburg State, which plays host to 4-1 Northwest Missouri on Saturday.
“Our destiny’s in our own hands,” Brown said. “Northwest and Pitt play this week, and who knows what happens there? (If) Northwest beats Pitt and we win, now there’s three teams at 5-1 and if we we take care of business the next few weeks and we beat both those teams then we’re conference champs again.
“There’s a lot at stake. We can’t slip. We still have things to improve, things to get better at. Hopefully they’re locked in, and we’ve got to find a way to keep them locked in.”