It will go down as a 31-7 win in the MIAA for the Fort Hays State University football team.
It also will be recorded as the first 4-0 start since 1983 for the Tiger program and first such start in the program’s NCAA Division II history.
But what Saturday’s victory against Northeastern State University at Lewis Field Stadium won’t be seen as — at least in the eyes of Tiger coach Chris Brown — is a complete game.
The coach isn’t going to take anything away from the fact his team is unbeaten. But he would have liked to see the MIAA-leading Tigers leave no doubt after it jumped out early in its home debut as the No. 18-ranked team in Division II.
“We did some good things on both sides of the ball, but we still have to find way to finish teams off and play hard for four quarters,” Brown said.
So far, despite the 4-0 start and climb in the rankings, that’s been the Achilles heel for the Tigers. Only in the win against Central Missouri in Week 2 did FHSU feel as though it put together close to a complete game.
Brown said Saturday felt similar to a Week 1 win against Missouri Southern.
“We have to do a better job of playing four quarters, but a win is a win,” Brown said. “Our kids played hard and did the things they need to do to win.”
That especially was true on defense. While the offense lacked the intensity it had on its opening drive, the defense hunkered down, and only once gave up anything big. That came after Northeastern State was set up with a 20-yard field following an interception by Tiger quarterback Jacob Mezera.
“We came out and played a pretty good game,” said junior defensive lineman Wyatt Parker, who had six tackles. “We were very aggressive. Every game we’re getting closer and closer, more chemistry as a defense.
“We’re just continuing to get better as a defense.”
Northeastern (0-4) had just 95 total yards of offense at halftime and ended the game with just 184 total yards. FHSU had 427 and did enough in the first half to jump out early and grab the win. Mezera finished a somewhat quiet 21 of 28 for 212 yards and two scores.
The Tigers scored on their first possession, a nine-play, 65-yard drive capped by a 1-yard run by Kenneth Iheme. On the Tigers’ next possession, Brandon Brown connected on a 54-yard field goal and FHSU led 10-0.
Then a pair of second-quarter touchdown tosses from Mezera to junior tight end Drew Kite (4 and 5 yards) set a 24-0 halftime score.
For Kite, it was his first trip to the end zone since his days at Scott County High School, certainly a bright spot for FHSU.
“It’s something I really haven’t felt in five years,” he said. “It was awesome, especially that first one. Kind of a blur right now, but pretty cool, though.”
For the Tiger offense, it seemed as though that was the last bit of excitement. Save for a 30-yard run by Iheme in the third quarter that made it 31-7, the effort, Brown said, just wasn’t there.
“We have to find a way to get a little bit tougher, a little bit meaner,” Brown said. “We’re too nice when we go into the half with a lead. We have to find a way to finish teams off.”
Still, behind a dominant defensive day, FHSU is 4-0, and Iheme — who had 15 carries for 95 yards, two scores and four receptions for 34 yards — wasn’t going to take anything away from that.
He was proud to be a part of history, but knows it could have been more convincing against a winless NSU team.
“Nice to be able to make history, but as a team, we really didn’t play to our potential,” the senior said. “We just have to get ready and keep the momentum going and know that we can still play to a higher level.”
FHSU will hit the road Saturday on a long trip to St. Charles, Mo., for a 1 p.m. kickoff against Lindenwood.