Tigers enter final week of season
By CONOR NICHOLL
The Fort Hays State University football team scored on its first four drives and took a 27-0 lead on the road against perennial power University of Central Missouri on Saturday. Then, the Tigers had just 73 yards on their next seven drives. Five of the drives ended in punts, one finished the first half and another one concluded with an interception. None of the drives took more than three minutes.
"It was a situation where we started out very, very strong and didn't know how to handle that situation," coach Chris Brown said in his weekly news conference Tuesday. "We just missed some opportunities, we missed a few throws that probably should have been touchdowns for us."
On defense, FHSU allowed the high-octane Mules to score twice in the second quarter, including on a fourth-and-1 from the Tiger 1 with 19 seconds left in the half, part of a string of 41 unanswered points.
"It all starts with me offensively," sophomore quarterback Treveon Albert said. "I just feel like if I am not making the right reads or getting everything done right, then as a team, we are not going to succeed the way that we should. I feel like if I could have made more plays or got the ball to my teammates to make more plays, we would have been more successful."
Fort Hays eventually lost 48-34 and saw its five-game winning streak end. Brown called it a "missed opportunity" for his young team that was looking for its first victory against a consistent top-25 team in his three-year tenure.
"Central, they are a very good football team," Brown said. "They can make things like that happen in a hurry. I think these kids are understanding we have got to take every play, every quarter, every down seriously and play all four quarters, which we didn't do last week."
Defensively, Brown said the team had tackled well in the five-game winning streak, but didn't tackle well Saturday -- effort reminiscent of the first four games, all losses to ranked teams. Fort Hays had special teams problems, including a missed extra point off a high snap. They also allowed 51.4 yards on five kickoff returns.
UCM's LaVance Taylor returned a kickoff 94 yards for a score. Taylor earned MIAA Special Teams Player of the Week honors after he finished with 296 all-purpose yards, second-most in program history.
Taylor had 176 yards on three returns; Brown also said FHSU had some kickoffs in the wrong spot, which allowed the Mules to get "some good angles" on the Tigers.
"We had guys in position to go make the play," Brown said of the TD. "We just didn't sell out and go make the play. It was a missed opportunity by us again, but we have got to learn how to finish and learn how to sell out a little bit more."
This Saturday, Fort Hays concludes the season against the University of Nebraska-Kearney. Fort Hays stands at 5-5, 3-5 MIAA, while the Lopers are 3-7, 3-5 MIAA. Start time is 2 p.m. for senior day at Lewis Field Stadium.
"A lesson learned," Albert said. "Got to build off of it. We know what we did good. We know what we did wrong."
Fort Hays has 13 seniors, including senior running back Andre Smith, wideouts Tanner Hageman and Keaton Callins and defensive back Stephen Marcotte.
"This will a great game for them to finish up on, and do things well and do things like we ask them to do and finish strong," Brown said. "That's something that these seniors really need to do is finish strong to get a winning season because these kids deserve it. They have worked so hard and done so much for this program."
A victory gives Fort Hays its first winning season since a 6-5 mark in 2009 and another win improvement with Brown. FHSU was 4-7 and 5-6 his first two years.
"It's probably not as fast as what everybody wants, but in this conference, it is not going to happen real fast," Brown said. "It's going to take time. It shows progress that we are going in the right direction from 4-7 to 5-6 to hopefully 6-5 after this weekend."