A benefit of earning the top seed in its Super Region in 2017, the Fort Hays State football team was rewarded by receiving a first-round bye in the Division II playoffs.
But looking back now, FHSU coach Chris Brown isn’t sure the bye did his team any favors, with the Tigers taking a 31-21 loss to Ferris State in the second round after the layoff — at home.
“Last year we had (the bye); I felt like we just sat around, practiced, then kids relaxed a little bit and then they got too tight, started thinking about the playoffs too much,” Brown said. “I like getting right into it.”
The Tigers will get the chance to jump into the playoffs immediately this time, opening this weekend as the No. 5 seed against the No. 4-seeded University of Indianapolis at 1 p.m. (noon Hays time) on Saturday at Key Stadium in Indianapolis.
“I like just getting right back out there,” Brown said. “…Sometimes that (bye) week just messes things up. Kids need structure. They hate change. Hopefully this being not much of a change will help our guys out.”
Linebacker Jose Delgado — on Tuesday named the MIAA Defensive Player of the Year — said the Tigers should be better equipped to handle the playoffs this year after last year’s experience.
“I think the bye week was part of it, but I think we kind of took (Ferris State) lightly,” Delgado said of last year’s loss. "We thought we were just going to go in there and kill them. I think we have to understand that everyone’s a good team now. Everyone’s like Northwest or whatever. I think we just got to prepare better.”
Tigers’ receiver Harley Hazlett agreed that last year’s playoff game will play dividends this year.
“Watching Ferris last year, they looked good but were kind of unknown,” Hazlett said. “Just the hesitation alone was what killed us. We didn’t know, and it ended up biting us.”
The Tigers, who will fly to Indianapolis on Thursday night, enter on a five-game winning streak after earning a share of the MIAA title with Northwest Missouri at 9-2. UIndy, champions of the GLVC, reeled off nine straight wins after losing its season opener to Grand Valley State in a non-conference contest.
Fort Hays was essentially put into a playoff mode midseason after a road loss to Emporia State dropped the Tigers to 4-2.
“When you're geared to that level of play … just keep playing like you have been,” Hazlett said. “Obviously you have to turn it up a little bit more but you already have that mentality of, ‘This is it, or go home.’ ”