Throughout its 9-0 campaign and climb to the top of the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association, members of the Fort Hays State University football team have known they are going to get everyone’s best shot.
FHSU, at nine wins for the first time in program history, has overcome rough starts, injuries, and various other forms of adversity to win its 11th straight contest, dating back to last season.
However, none are bigger than what the Tigers hope to accomplish this week. Not only are the Tigers facing the perennial juggernaut of the MIAA, but it’s what’s at stake that might be causing more excitement for the now No. 6 ranked Tigers, also the top team in NCAA Division II Super Region 3.
How are the Tigers handling it?
“It’s the next step. That’s how we approach everything,” Tiger coach Chris Brown said Tuesday as the Tigers began preparation for Northwest Missouri State University, the defending national champion.
“It’s step No. 10, and that’s how we’ve approached everything this year.”
However, the coach added, the scenario might add some pressure. But that’s nothing new for this climbing Tiger team.
For the first time against a Bearcat club, FHSU enters Saturday’s contest as a favorite. The Bearcats on Saturday saw their 38-game winning streak snapped by Pittsburg State University, dropping NWMS from No. 1 in the country to No. 8 and out of the top spot in the region.
The Tigers, though, know they have to stay humble.
“They’re still Northwest,” FHSU junior defensive back Doyin Jibowu said.
And that’s how the Tigers have to prepare.
“I feel like we’ve played big games all year,” Jibowu said. “We just have to remind everyone that it’s just one week at a time.
“It’s another game, another step to get to your ultimate goal.”
One goal along that chain, though, can be reached Saturday. With a win, the Tigers will all but clinch the MIAA title for the first time since joining the conference in 2007, a goal seven years in the making under Brown, who was part of an MIAA title with Washburn as an assistant.
The situation, though, is different this time around.
“We’re always used to Northwest being the top seed, and being No. 1 in the conference,” Brown said. “It’s a different scenario than what we’re used to. I think our kids feel pretty good about that.”
Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. kickoff in Maryville, Mo., also will be senior day for the Bearcats, playing in a place they rarely lose.
“It’s definitely hard (to stay focused) with all the hype that’s coming around,” said Tiger sophomore Tanner Hoekman. “Everybody’s congratulating us. It’s up to us as a team — as players — to keep everyone settled down. We need to stay humble about it, just go out and do what we do.”