The toughest part of Fort Hays State’s uphill battle for an MIAA title is over. 

After being forced to run the table over the last five weeks of the regular season, the defending conference champs find themselves a win away from wrapping up at least a share of the MIAA title.

All that stands in their way is a winless Northeastern State team, but FHSU coach Chris Brown doesn’t want his team taking anything for granted.

“We haven’t won anything yet,” Brown said. “There’s still a lot at stake right now. We lose this game, everything you worked so hard for goes away. If that doesn’t motivate you enough, then I don’t know what will.”

The No. 22-ranked Tigers will play host to the 0-10 RiverHawks at 2 p.m. Saturday at Lewis Field Stadium after a thrilling 17-16 victory last week at Northwest Missouri that moved FHSU into a tie for first place in the conference with Northwest at 8-2.

“I think they’ll be pretty locked in,” Brown said of his team. “It’s senior day, so we’re going to play hard for those guys and get them a win.”

The Northwest win moved Fort Hays up two spots in the Super Region 3 rankings to No. 5, putting the Tigers in position to secure a playoff spot with a win against Northeastern State.

“We have to take every game like we’re going against Northwest,” FHSU offensive lineman Romello Burke said. “We have to keep that same energy, same hunger every week.”

Ideally, the Tigers would be able to build a big lead and rest some starters in the second half.

“The first thing is we got to go perform at a high level and try to get to that point,” Brown said. “If we do get to that point, we’ll probably try to pull some kids just to make sure that we have them ready for the playoffs if we do end up winning this game.”

Redshirt freshman quarterback Chance Fuller drew his first career start and played the whole way in the Northwest win, throwing for 240 yards and two touchdowns with three interceptions. Brown said Tuesday that Fuller and Jacob Mezera would compete this week for the start against Northeastern State.

Brown said he was proud of the way Mezera, the Tigers all-time career leader in several passing categories, handled the situation. 

“He handled it really well,” Brown said. “Jake’s a good kid, he’s got great character. He looks at the situations and how things kind of evolve and understands the situation as well. He was great on the headset (in the Northwest game) and helped Chance out quite a bit as the game was going on.”

Rob Messinger is serving as Northeastern State’s interim head coach after Rob Robinson resigned as head coach last week after NSU announced it would not be renewing Robinson’s contract.

NSU is coming off a 62-0 loss at Central Oklahoma.

“We got to be prepared for everything,” Brown said. “I’m sure there’s going to be some trick plays and different alignments that we haven’t seen. We just got to lock in and do our job and do our assignments.

Ten FHSU seniors will receive recognition prior to the game — Mezera, Jose Delgado, Doyin Jibowu, Connor Shedeed, Aquil Knowles, Erin Gaither, Rex Diederich, Wyatt Parker, Malik Young, and Geoffrey Lodge.

“This group’s been resilient,” Brown said. “Every season’s been a winning season and they found ways to win ball games. … They’re just good kids, that’s the coolest things about them. They’ve always got a smile on their face, they love coming to work and they do things the right way.”