Things don’t always go according to plan.
As in the case for Fort Hays State University senior running back Kenneth Iheme, sometimes things work out for the better.
Coming out of Wichita Heights High School in 2012, the all-state running back made a visit to Pittsburg State University and at one time was considering becoming a Gorilla and joining the MIAA and national powerhouse.
“I had a chance to go there, or at least I made a visit there,” Iheme said.
The tables have turned a little bit. And heading into his final game against Pitt State — Saturday’s 7 p.m. FHSU homecoming at Lewis Field Stadium — the shifty Tiger runner has just a little more to play for.
“That didn’t go as planned, so there’s definitely that extra edge to want to beat them.”
The same probably could be said for everyone else on the team. It seems Pittsburg State always is the team FHSU wants to beat, yet it’s something that hasn’t happened at Lewis Field Stadium in the seven-year Chris Brown coached era. Not since 1978 has a Tiger team beaten the Gorillas in Hays.
For the first time, though, FHSU — 5-0 and ranked No. 11 in NCAA Division II — goes in to the meeting as the favorite. Pittsburg State, while suffering a few close losses, sits 2-3 and plays the rare role of the underdog. Saturday will mark the 75th meeting between the programs. The Gorillas own a 46-19 advantage with nine ties. But since 1978, Pitt State owns a 20-2 advantage with one tie. The two Tiger wins both have come in the last five years, but both at Pittsburg.
FHSU is hoping it will come out and take care of business in front of what the Tigers hope is a jacked up capacity crowd under the lights.
“I want to see Lewis jumping,” Tiger senior lineman Travis Talley said. “I’m hoping we just pack the place and show them what Hays can do when it comes to football.”
So far, the Tigers have been good enough. FHSU squeaked out a 38-35 win against Lindenwood last week, a team that defeated Pittsburg State 45-11 a week prior in Pittsburg. It was one of two straight losses the Gorillas suffered at home.
That doesn’t mean much to Brown, though. The Pitt State alum head coach of the Tigers knows the Gorillas will put up a stern test. His team will have to play a full 60 minutes, something he said has only happened one time in its 5-0 start — when it knocked off then-No. 13 ranked Central Missouri in Week 2.
“They’re going to be hungry for a win,” Brown said of Pitt. “There is going to be a little added juice on their side and the same with us. We’ve got to find a way to get this game and take care of business.”
The Tigers sit tied atop the MIAA with defending national champion Northwest Missouri State University. At 36.6 points per game, the Tigers sit second in the conference and have given up just 15.8 points per contest (also second in the MIAA).
For the first four weeks, it was mostly junior quarterback Jacob Mezera carrying the load and spreading the ball around to several different receivers. He did the same last week, adding to his 275.8 yard-per-game passing average and 70-percent completion rate. Junior Monterio Burchfield has 24 catches for 498 yards and six scores, while sophomore Layne Bieberle has 19 for 247 and a pair of scores. Senior Tyler Bacon also has 24 catches for 180.
Iheme enjoyed his strongest game as a Tiger. He carried the ball 30 times for 174 yards and a touchdown. He upped his yard-per-game average to 95.4 (second in the MIAA).
The senior said FHSU should have the advantage Saturday. The Tigers go up against their own defense every day, and Pitt State is similar, though the Gorillas have surrendered a little more than 30 points per outing — the magic number for FHSU. Since Brown took the reins, FHSU is 29-2 when scoring 30 or more points. One of those losses came in his first season.
“Our defense is one of the top of the conference, if not (the top),” Iheme said. “Going up against those guys, it gets us ready for anybody.”
The Gorillas have posted 30.6 points per game and have scored four times on special teams, all coming on punt returns, an area where the Tigers have struggled slightly.
“They’ve got some speed on those teams,” Brown said. “We can’t bust so we have to make sure we’re locked in constantly on special teams.”
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 today’s Oktoberfest.