Tigers gain first win
By RANDY GONZALES
After losing their first four games last year against tough conference foes, the Fort Hays State University football team rebounded to win five of its last seven games.
"Last year, we went 0-4 and then won this fifth game, really put us on a roll," senior linebacker Shane Smith said.
This year, those same four teams put the Tigers in the same position Saturday night, looking for their first victory after four defeats.
Fort Hays, in its first-ever meeting with William Jewell (Mo.) College, claimed a 34-17 non-conference win at Lewis Field Stadium in front of 3,678 fans on homecoming.
"It gives us a little confidence going into the next game, to get that first win," said Tiger senior running back Andre Smith, who rushed for a game-high 123 yards and had a long TD run called back by a penalty. "We're just going to keep rolling, try to keep this snowball going."
"It's great to get that first win," Fort Hays coach Chris Brown said. "That first win is hard to get.
"Our kids kept fighting and battling. We did some good things offensively and defensively."
Fort Hays (1-4) scored first, on a 2-yard run by sophomore quarterback Treveon Albert. The big play in the drive was a 37-yard scamper by Albert up the middle.
William Jewell (1-4) answered with a 7-yard TD pass from senior quarterback Sean Shelton to junior wideout Chris Smith to make it 7-7 late in the first quarter.
After the Tigers muffed the ensuing kickoff, the Cardinals went ahead 10-7 on a 40-yard field goal by senior Warren Frevert 9 seconds into the second quarter.
Fort Hays then scored a pair of touchdowns to take a 21-10 halftime lead.
Albert scored again, this time from 3 yards out, to cap an 11-play, 80-yard drive, to give the Tigers the lead.
Junior free safety Micheal Jordan then picked off a Shelton deep ball for his first career interception, and returned it 40 yards to the William Jewell 40.
"It feels real good," Jordan said of his pick. "I was a little winded out there; I would have liked to return it for a touchdown."Jordan raced down the right sideline before cutting back to the other side of the field, where he was tackled by the Cardinal quarterback.
"I thought I was going," for a touchdown, Jordan said. "I cut back across the field, I saw the quarterback coming."
As for being tackled by a quarterback, Jordan laughed and said, "that's what happens when you're tired."
Brown was happy to see Jordan, who has been hampered by injuries, make a big play. In addition to the pick, Jordan made five tackles and broke up another pass.
"I've been waiting for Micheal to get it," Brown said. "We've been waiting all year for that turnover, just to build him some confidence.
"He's such an athletic kid, can do a lot of things for you on the defensive side of the ball. He flies around all the time. He tackled
better today, which was good to see."
The Tigers capitalized on Jordan's interception, with junior running back Edward Smith scoring from a yard out with 2:25 left in the first half.
Edward Smith added another touchdown in the third quarter, on a 30-yard burst up the middle into the end zone. His score capped a nine-play, 93-yard march to give the Tigers a 28-10 lead with 6:36 left in the quarter.
William Jewell then traveled 83 yards in 11 plays to get within 28-17 on a 26-yard run by junior quarterback D.J. Balazs. But the Cardinals would get no closer.
The Tigers tacked on a pair of field goals from sophomore kicker Drew O'Brien in the fourth quarter; he connected from 25 and 38 yards.
For the night, O'Brien made both of his field-goal attempts, and had three of his six kickoffs go into the end zone for touchbacks.
Another kickoff sailed 8 yards deep into the end zone, and the William Jewell return man elected to bring it out.
"Huge day, we needed that out of him," Brown said of O'Brien. "Gained some confidence today ... awesome leg, great kicker. Did a good job getting it to the end zone as well on his kickoffs. That was the best I've seen him this year, and I'm proud of that kid. He just needs to keep improving on that."
The offensive line, which has struggled with injuries, opened up the holes, as the Tigers piled up 401 yards in total offense, with 271 on the ground.
"Our line did a great job setting up blocks for us, getting our backs room to cut," Brown said. "Our backs saw the holes and hit them."
Fort Hays returns to Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association action Saturday, with a 1:30 p.m. game against Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo. The Lions lost 56-6 at University of Nebraska-Kearney Saturday to fall to 4-2 overall, 3-2 MIAA. The Tigers are 0-4 in conference action. Last year, Lindenwood held on for a 20-17 win over the Tigers in Hays.
"I feel like we should have won that game last year," Smith said. "A loss like that, it's always going to stick in the back of your head. But at the same time, I feel like we're confident enough that we should have won that game last year. Going into this game, it's just going to help us get on that roll that we need to get on."