Tigers roll, finish 6-5
By CONOR NICHOLL
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Fort Hays State University football team held a big lead against the University of Nebraska-Kearney. Senior wide receiver Keaton Callins and senior running back Andre Smith had scored twice. Now, coach Chris Brown wanted another senior veteran, wide receiver Tanner Hageman, to collect a touchdown.
Hageman, a fifth-year player and team captain, was bothered by some ankle problems for most of the game and had a slight limp. Still, he hauled in a six-yard score from sophomore quarterback Treveon Albert with 6 minutes, 19 seconds remaining. Hageman immediately started crying once he scored, the final touch on a 56-17 season-ending victory on Saturday against rival University of Nebraska-Kearney at Lewis Field Stadium.
"I am going to remember that forever," Hageman said.
Fort Hays delivered another big offensive performance and set or tied multiple individual and school records en route to 711 yards of total offense. FHSU opened 0-4, finished 6-1 and completed its first winning season since 2009 at 6-5, 4-5 MIAA.
"These kids are resilient," Brown said. "They found a way to battle back."
From 2010-13, FHSU has gone 3-8, 4-7, 5-6 and 6-5; the last three years under Brown.
"Fort Hays is going to keep growing and growing and be one of the elite teams," Callins said.
The 15-member senior class -- including two redshirt juniors -- formed the foundation for Brown's tenure. Callins and Hageman, converted quarterbacks, and senior running back Andre Smith were the offensive stalwarts and all spent at least three years in the program.
"It all goes back to these seniors," Brown said.
Smith rushed 24 times for 210 yards and two scores and finished with 1,013 yards and seven rushing TDs this year. Hageman had a team-high eight catches for 88 yards.
"It's a great way to close," Smith said. "I owe it to my linemen. I love playing with those guys. It's been an honor to play with every one of them."
Callins added three catches for 92 yards and two TDs. Callins made multiple highlight reel grabs this season; all of Saturday's were terrific catches.
"Tremendous athlete," Brown said.
Defensively, senior defensive back Stephen Marcotte and redshirt junior bandit backer Zach Nash predated Brown, while senior defensive end Jeremy Jones came in Brown's first spring as a fullback. The trio combined for 11 tackles, three for loss, though Nash suffered a game-ending knee injury.
"They've done everything we have ever asked them to do," Brown said.
Albert continued his improvement when he completed 20 of 27 passes for 357 yards and five scores. He also rushed five times for 27 yards and another TD against the Lopers (3-8, 3-6 MIAA). Saturday marked the sixth time in Tiger history a quarterback threw for five scores. Sophomore kicker Drew O'Brien broke a school mark (single season) with 51 extra points.
"That's a great finish to the season," Albert said.
Just like all year, Albert had help from Callins and Hageman on finding the open seams and spreading the ball around.
Often, the seniors talked to Albert during series or on the sideline.
"It's been a fun process," Hageman said.
Fort Hays scored the most points ever against its longtime rival. The game was tied at seven after the first quarter, but FHSU led 28-17 at halftime and then scored 21 third-quarter points to open up the game. Callins had the first TD off a 49-yard pass at the 10:11 mark of the first quarter. Callins caught the ball on the sideline. After he turned the corner, the defensive back, assuming Callins hadn't made the catch or went out of bounds, stopped running.
"I was just running a simple go route, and Treveon, first time I had ever seen him throw a back shoulder pass, went right under the corner's arm and I kept my eyes on it and caught it," Callins said. "Luckily, I didn't step out of bounds and just went. I just talked to a couple of guys and they didn't even know I caught it until I turned around."
Callins' second catch came on a 19-yard pass on a tipped ball across the middle. His final grab came at the 14:52 mark of the second quarter. Sophomore Boone Anderson closely guarded Callins in the end zone, but Callins jumped high for the 24-yard TD.
"I just had to make a play," Callins said. "Coach (Al) McCray always says, 'Big time players have to make big time plays and being senior year, I had to do something."
Albert later found junior Ed Williams for two scores of 44 and 5 yards. Williams had four catches for 124 yards and two TDs and finished the season with 16 catches for 451 yards and seven TDs in just seven games.
"He is so fast," Albert said.
Hageman nearly scored in the second half, but was stopped inside the 10. Then, he received his chance late in the game for a final memory. After Hageman came to the sideline, he had a long embrace with several teammates and coaches.
"It's just a great way for the coaches to show appreciation," Hageman said.