Fort Hays State’s 27-14 victory over Lindenwood wasn't exactly packed full of monumental moments, with the Tigers using a solid, workmanlike performance to take down the Lions on Saturday at Lewis Field Stadium.
But it was the victory itself that made it a momentous occasion for the program.
Tigers' coach Chris Brown moved to the top of FHSU’s coaching wins chart, picking up his 56th career victory.
“First off, all the glory goes to God,” Brown said in his postgame press conference. “He’s the one that has put me in this position and given me direction and leadership. Just having faith in him and trusting in his plan, and it’s working out.”
Brown, now 56-33 in his eighth season, appreciated the moment but was quick to share credit, thanking his wife Daphne, sons Hunter and Hayden, the FHSU administration, his current and former players and the coaching staff.
“It feels pretty good but it’s a team effort and it’s a family effort and it’s God blessing me with many gifts,” Brown said.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Chance Fuller turned in his best game as a Tiger, throwing for 274 yards. He played most of the second half after starter Jacob Mezera was shaken up on a sack early in the third quarter.
Brown was recognized with his family on the field after the win, with his players helping celebrate the moment.
“It was awesome,” Fuller said. “He’s just a great guy and a great leader with everything he does.”
Fort Hays, which moved to 7-2 on the season and remained a game back in the MIAA race, led 20-7 at halftime. Lindenwood scored on its first possession of the second half but D.J. Hickman took a screen pass for a 46-yard touchdown late in the third quarter for the only other score in the half.
Fuller completed 13 of 18 passes with a touchdown and no interceptions. Fuller, who has typically took the snaps in every third series throughout the season, said he was prepared for the opportunity for extended playing time in the second half.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity and the previous drives I’ve gotten really did help me,” Fuller said.
Mezera left on the Tigers' first possession of the second half after he was sacked by Lindenwood’s Jonathan Harris. Brown chose to stick with Fuller the rest of the way.
“It was just more giving a kid a chance,” Brown said. “Jake was a little banged up, we weren’t sure of what it was. … Jake never really tells you exactly what (the injury) is, so it was precautionary as well. But we know Chance can get in there and get the job done and he proved today he can.”
Like last week at Nebraska-Kearney, Fort Hays started with a touchdown on its opening drive, with Mezera finding Harley Hazlett for a 28-yard touchdown pass. Lindenwood answered with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Mason Bendigo from Cade Brister.
The Tigers took a 10-7 lead on a 28-yard field goal by Dante Brown late in the first, and a 36-yard catch by Andrew Jay set up a 1-yard TD by Charles Tigner, who leaped over the pile for the score with 2:57 left in the second quarter.
Brown made a 34-yard kick just before halftime to give the Tigers a 20-7 cushion at the break.
FHSU outgained Lindenwood (3-6), 446-326, with the Tigers allowing 178 through the air and 148 on the ground. The Tigers did almost all their damage offensively through the air with 389 yards passing and just 57 on the ground.
“Our guys battled for most of the game,” Chris Brown said. “I thought we played well, but in that first quarter we scored early and relaxed a little bit. We got to learn how to play hard all the time.”
Tigers’ All-MIAA linebacker Jose Delgado left in the third quarter with an apparent shoulder injury and was held out the rest of the game.
“Just being safe,” Brown said. “Our players’ safety is more important than anything. We want to get them out there on the field, but to make something worse, we don’t want to do that to our players.”
Layne Bieberle led the Tigers with 122 yards on six catches while Hazlett made nine receptions for 93 yards and Andrew Jay added four catches for 80 yards.
Connor Shedeed and Kolt Traschel each had 11 tackles for Fort Hays and Traschel came up with two sacks.
The Tigers will look to move back even with Northwest Missouri for first place in the league next week when they take on the Bearcats in Maryville, Mo. Northwest moved to 8-1 with a blowout win over Northeastern State on Saturday.
“We’ve got to do everything right,” Brown said. “We’ve got to play hard, play physical and that comes down to the preparation in practice.”