Aside from a 3-0 start in the MIAA, the Tigers took a great deal away from their 31-24 last-minute victory on the road against University of Central Oklahoma.
The Fort Hays State University football team nearly found out the hard way that any team can be beat on any given day. That’s just the way things go in the powerhouse NCAA Division II conference — regardless of the fact the Tigers are climbing the rankings for the first time as a DII program.
FHSU will look to keep that mentality as Northeastern State University comes to town Saturday for a 2 p.m. kick at Lewis Field Stadium.
“Just goes back to preparation, and taking every team very seriously,” Tiger coach Chris Brown said. “Especially in this conference, because you never know.”
Last week, FHSU fell down 14-0 on the road, battled back to tie, fell down again, but eventually pulled out the exciting finish. Tiger junior receiver Monterio Burchfield grabbed a junior Jacob Mezera pass, executed a stiff arm on his defender, and took it 64 yards to the house for the game-winning score with 42 seconds left.
“We ran that play three times,” Burchfield said. “We went to it one more time. Jake just hit me, and I just made a play on my man.”
And that play has FHSU in a position it hasn’t been since 1983. With a win Saturday, the Tigers — ranked No. 18 in the latest AFCA poll — could go 4-0 for the first time since 1983. FHSU finished that year 8-3 after the hot start. In 1985, the Tigers were 4-0-1 with a tie in Week 3.
FHSU will be looking to get back to the team it was two weeks ago in a blowout against then No. 13 Central Missouri — at least at the start.
“They really came out the second half (against Central Oklahoma), and battled and fought through a tough first half,” Brown said. “They overcame some adversity, and some kids made some plays when they needed to make plays.”
Plays haven’t been hard to come by. Through three weeks, FHSU leads the MIAA in offensive yardage (466.3 yards per game) and is second in scoring (38 points) behind Pittsburg State, which put up 68 on the road in a win last week against the Tigers’ opponent, NSU.
Mezera leads the Tigers’ high-powered passing attack of 317.7 yards per contest (MIAA best). Of that, Mezera has thrown for 873 yards and seven touchdowns, and threw his first interception last week. He’s spread the ball around to 11 different receivers.
“If you have a great quarterback, the sky is the limit,” said Burchfield, in his first year as a Tiger. “Great quarterbacks make anyone look good. It’s just us staying focused, us staying mentally prepared for what we need to do.”
FHSU will face an NSU team near the bottom of the MIAA in offense, averaging 323 yards and just 12.7 points per contest. The FHSU defense, while one of the best, is focused this week on forcing a turnover, said junior linebacker Jose Delgado.
“We need some turnovers this game, because we’ve never went this long without a turnover,” said Delgado. “We kind of banked on that last year. As the season goes on, we’ll get more of those.”
NSU quarterback Dom McKinzy has completed 43 of 81 passes this season for 698 yards and four TDs. He also has thrown two interceptions. The Riverhawks, like Missouri Southern in the season opener, are a bit of an unknown, Brown said. The Tigers aren’t exactly sure what the Riverhawks wil throw at them.
“Probably play with (two) quarterbacks, two backs, and try to throw some deep balls on us and try to establish the run game and throw off play action,” Brown said. “I can see this being one of those games where they bring a lot of pressure (defensively).”
Regardless, the Tigers have proven they can be ready for anything, and if last week’s game against UCO taught them anything, it’s being ready for anything is a valuable asset.
“We can’t underestimate a team for sure,” Delgado said. “They might be 0-3 or whatever, butw e have to play like they’re the No. 1 team because every team is good in the MIAA.”