Through his tenure as coach of the Fort Hays State University football team, Chris Brown hasn’t been known to take many chances or get too fancy when it comes to decision time.
But when things are working so well — why not?
That was exactly the situation Thursday night. Things were going so much in the Tigers’ favor that even calls that normally might seem like gutsy decisions turned to gold for FHSU.
Some fourth-down attempts, a little bit of the wildcat formation, and some deep bombs all highlighted a 35-6 drubbing of No. 13 ranked University of Central Missouri at Lewis Field Stadium. That and a dominant defensive effort that kept one of the best offenses in the MIAA out of the end zone.
“You don’t usually see me do that,” Brown said, referring to the Tigers’ three fourth-down attempts (two conversions). “Tonight was one of those nights where we want to be a championship team, we got to take some chances and get after it.”
FHSU certainly looked the part of a team ready to compete for a championship all night. It started right out of the gate. Junior quarterback Jacob Mezera was perfect on the Tigers’ opening drive of 80 yards against a steady wind, and senior Kenneth Iheme broke loose for a 31-yard score that gave FHSU the 7-0 lead.
“If we come to play the first drive of the game, it really shows how much you can roll after that,” said sophomore receiver Layne Bieberle. “We knew they’re not a big hands on team right off the get go. We took advantage of that flying through the air.
“Jacob did a great job of putting the balls where they needed to go.”
Mezera hit junior Monterio Burchfield once, senior tight end Drew Kite twice and senior Tyler Bacon once in the drive. And Iheme did the rest. Then the defense did its job. Through most of the first half, UCM (1-1) rarely even sniffed midfield, a week after posting 470 yards in a win against Pittsburg State.
“I felt like we were prepared,” Tiger linebacker Jose Delgado said. “We had to bring our best game in order to beat them. Luckily we did.”
With a 7-0 lead late in the first, Mezera went to work on the Mules. He found Bacon for 13, Bieberle for 7, then Charles Tigner for 13 to set up a first-and-goal. Then the Tigers got creative. After three plays by Iheme gained virtually nothing, FHSU turned to junior Harley Hazlett in the wildcat formation. And it paid off. On fourth-and-goal, the Abilene product plunged into the end zone to put FHSU up 14-0 to start the quarter.
“If we get a lead, then we can start taking some shots and doing some different things,” Brown said. “It helps the defense out as well. In this league, you have to score points to win ball games. Hopefully we can continue.”
The offense poured it on in the Tigers’ next possession. Mezera hit Bieberle for 22 yards, then found Burchfield from 4 in the corner of the end zone, a ball he just threw up for grabs and Burchfield came down with it. It capped an 11-play, 54-yard drive.
Toward the end of the half, UCM showed its first signs of life on offense, but still the FHSU defense didn’t break, giving up just a 39-yard field goal. Redshirt junior quarterback Brook Bolles drove the Mules down the field, but the biggest play was 28 yards. He threw for 226 yards and rushed for 61 in the Week 1 win. Thursday, he finished with 273 passing yards — much of it coming late — and had just 1 yard net rushing.
“Pressure in the pocket,” said Tiger senior defensive end Nathan Shepherd, who had seven tackles (three for loss) and a sack. “Don’t give them any time to throw the ball. If he gets it off, make sure he’s getting hit.”
That plan worked to near perfection on all but a few drives. The Mules’ three red zone trips — before the game was out of reach — resulted in a failed fourth down and two field goals. Still too much, Shepherd said.
“I want that goose egg, that big golden egg,” the 6-foot-5, 300-pounder said. “We’re taking steps towards that. I want that goose egg.”
“They did a very good job,” Brown said of his defense. “We bent a little bit in certain situations, but we kept them out of the end zone. That’s a very good offense that only had 307 total yards of offense.”
Despite the struggles, though, UCM built some momentum right after halftime — but thanks to Bieberle it was short-lived. The Mules capped their first drive of the third quarter with their second field goal to make it 21-6, but on the Tigers’ second play of the half, Mezera hit the Claflin product Bieberle for 71 yards down the home sideline. A big block from Burchfield aided the long score, and the Tigers took all the wind out of UCM’s sails.
“That is huge. You broke their backs a little bit, and kind of took some air out of them,” Brown said.
The 71-yard strike was part of a four-catch, 107 yard night for Bieberle, who later caught a 7-yard pass to cap the scoring. Mezera, the reigning MIAA Offensive Player of the Week, had another big performance. He was 18 of 31 for 227 yards and three scores.
FHSU now hits the road to take on University of Central Oklahoma on Sept. 16. Game time is 7 p.m. in Edmond, Okla.