While Fort Hays State University senior offensive guard Chico Feltenberger enjoyed opening the 2016 football season with a win at home last Thursday, there’s also some benefit to going on the road, which the Tigers will do for the first time at 7 p.m. Thursday against No. 16 Central Missouri.
Feltenberger added the student support during the 22-10 win over Missouri Southern was the best he’s seen in his time at Hays, but a road trip allows more time to get in the right frame of mind.
“It’s nice to start the season at home, but I think going on the road, you kinda start preparing mentally a little bit earlier,” Feltenberger said. “You leave Wednesday afternoon, you’re with your team all night. You’re in the hotel. You’re just around the guys, and then you wake up and you have most of the day to think about football and be around the coaches.”
A mentally prepared Tiger team might be a necessity for FHSU to return to Hays without a loss. The Mules started the season ranked No. 20 in the American Football Coaches Association poll but moved up four spots after beating Pittsburg State 34-27 in the season opener. The Tigers are receiving votes.
While head coach Chris Brown was happy to start the season with a win, he thought the Tigers lacked something in their opener.
“I feel like we didn’t play with energy or excitement or enthusiasm,” Brown said. “That’s something you gotta play with in this game.”
Central Missouri will present some challenges on both sides of the ball. The offense, quarterbacked by Garrett Fugate, ranked second in the conference in total offense a season ago. The dual-threat quarterback figures to keep the Tiger defense on its toes.
“If they need to win the ballgame or things are tight, they’re going to run that quarterback, but his arm is good enough and he’s good enough to get out of trouble,” Brown said. “He’s going to make it very hard for us on Thursday.”
In the win over the Gorillas, Fugate completed nearly half of his 33 passes for 282 yards and two scores, and added 15 rushes for 41 yards and another score. Slowing the UCM quarterback is a challenge senior cornerback Raheeme Dumas looks forward to.
“They like to throw the ball. Our coaches, that’s what they’re harping on us about, not being lazy, falling asleep whenever the ball isn’t coming to your side and stuff like that,” Dumas said. “They’re going to attack us in the air. As (defensive backs), that’s what we’re looking forward to. This our type of game.”
The UCM defense is expected to look noticeably different under a new defensive coordinator. Wes Bell is in his first year in charge of the Mule defense after previously serving as Missouri Western’s defensive coordinator. Bell will have the Mules switching from a four-man front to a three-man defensive line. With the Mules returning a number of defensive lineman from a year ago and a familiar coaching scheme taking over, the two teams anticipate having a pretty good idea what’s coming from the other side.
“I think the biggest challenge is, they’re going to put seven people in the box every play,” Feltenberger said. “That’s advantageous for them because they know what we’re good at.”
The Mules will also be looking for some token of revenge after the Tigers ended the UCM season last year in a 28-14 game that eventually decided who would represent the MIAA in a bowl game.
UCM won’t be the only team in Warrensburg looking for something Thursday, however. Feltenberger said he didn’t see many smiles after the Tigers’ season opening win because the team wasn’t pleased with its performance despite the end result.
“Internally, it just didn’t feel right on Thursday,” Feltenberger said. “I think we gotta go out this coming Thursday and get one that feels right.”
Elsewhere in the MIAA, Washburn travels to Northwest Missouri State in the only other battle of 1-0 teams.
Despite season-opening losses PSU and Central Oklahoma will look to get back on track when the two teams meet in Edmond, Okla. Additionally, Nebraska-Kearney (0-1) hosts Emporia State (0-1) while Lindenwood (1-0) travels to Northeastern State (0-1).