The Tigers are off to a 5-0 start. They have the No. 11 ranking in the AFCA NCAA Division II football poll. They are tied atop the MIAA with perennial powerhouse and elite conference contender Northwest Missouri State University, the defending national champion.
There still is work to be done. And the Fort Hays State University football team says it has yet to tap into its full potential.
That’s probably a good thing. Especially considering the fact the Tigers still have to play the “meat and potatoes” of their schedule. FHSU enters Week 6 — its homecoming week — on the brink of reaching even bigger milestones in its climb on a ladder the program hasn’t seen in its Division II history.
They know, though, they still have to get better.
“We’ve definitely done enough to win these last few games,” said Tiger senior running back Kenneth Iheme. “But I feel there’s a lot more we can accomplish.”
Heading into this week’s game against Pittsburg State University, that will be the focus. FHSU squeaked out a 38-35 win Saturday at Lindenwood University, a team that throttled Pitt State a week earlier. The Tigers had to have a pick 6 late in the game by Kolt Trachsel to pull away, and had to come from behind on separate occasions to get it done.
While Lindenwood is much improved, the Tigers know that type of play isn’t going to get it done against the likes of Pittsburg State, one of the powerhouses of the league for many years, despite entering this week with a 2-3 mark.
FHSU didn’t spend much time celebrating its 5-0 mark, or even the fact the Tigers reached another new program high with the No. 11 ranking.
“The bus ride home is pretty much the time we need to celebrate that game and move forward,” Tiger seventh-year coach Chris Brown said. “We usually give it about a day.
“They move on pretty quick and understand what we’re trying to do and trying to get accomplished.”
So far that attitude has paid off. The Tigers sit tied atop the conference with Northwest Missouri, and sit second in the MIAA in points per game (36.6) are second in scoring defense (15.8 points), and are among the top in total offense and defense, playing right alongside the MIAA’s top contenders.
But, FHSU still has to play many of those top contenders in the remaining slate — starting with Saturday’s 7 p.m. kick at Lewis Field Stadium.
“These last three (31-24 win vs. Central Oklahoma, 31-7 win vs. Northeastern State and Saturday), I don’t think we’ve really played to our potential,” Brown said, “the level I want our kids playing at.”
That could be because the last few games are the first the Tigers have had to face things not going exactly according to plan.
In the first two weeks, it seemed FHSU could do no wrong in 41-7 and 35-6 wins against Missouri Southern State University and then-No. 13 University of Central Missouri.
When the game plan is perfect?
“That’s when we’re at our best,” Brown said. “A little adversity happens, and our kids just kind of panic a little bit instead of moving on to the next play and forgetting about it.
“We just need to figure out to have some confidence in ourselves and keep moving forward,” the coach added.
Iheme, who took over the run game load Saturday with 30 carries for 174 yards — his biggest game as a Tiger to date — said focusing on eliminating those mistakes will be key.
“Going into this week, we’re going to have to clean that up,” Iheme said, referring to the Tigers’ three turnovers, including his fumble. “I’m going to have to do a better job.”
Iheme, though, a fifth-year senior out of Wichita Heights High School, is enjoying his best run as a Tiger, continuing to be a dominant force in the run game. After an injury last week to backup Charles Tigner, Iheme was forced into a more workhorse role.
“Coach told me he was going to need me to stay in there and get the job done,” he said. “That’s what I did.”
Fireworks will go off
Following Saturday’s homecoming contest and weather permitting, FHSU will have a fireworks show that will last approximately 10 to 15 minutes. The show will go off to the south of the stadium and is being sponsored by Horizon Appliance and Electronics, the Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau and Jamie and Brianna Day. The night will cap two days of homecoming festivities that coincide with Friday’s Oktoberfest at Hays’ Municipal Park.