Sophomore quarterback Jacob Mezera put together his best game of his short collegiate career in a Week 6 win at Pittsburg State, but he quickly put that game behind him in anticipation of one of his toughest tests in his first year as the Fort Hays State starter.
Mezera earned MIAA Football Athlete of the Week honors after posting 508 yards of total offense, a new FHSU record, and had a hand in six touchdowns. While he said following the game it was a performance he’ll remember for some time, he’s hasn’t spent too much time thinking about it this week.
“It’s over and done with,” Mezera said after lamenting his number of incompletions. “We gotta keep improving on that. We can all play better as a whole.”
Continued improvement in Week 7 might be important against a physical Washburn (4-2) defense.
Game time is 1 p.m. Saturday at Yager Stadium in Topeka.
“This is probably the best defense we’ve played so far,” Mezera said. “They kinda remind me of our defense, how they don’t give up the big play. They always want you to dump it down, they’ll make the tackle. They’re pretty physical.”
“They got some big guys one the D-line,” FHSU coach Chris Brown said. “They play a physical, physical game.”
The Tigers feel like the more aggressive team in the trenches will leave with a win.
“It’s going to be a very physical ball game,” Brown said. “We just gotta play more physical.”
A win in Topeka would be a first for the Tigers as a Division II program. It would also mark the first time FHSU sat at 6-1 at its current level. Accomplishing those milestones would likely require the Tigers to avoid a trap they fell into two years ago.
In 2014, FHSU traveled to Topeka after beating Pittsburg State 7-6 and lost a 27-24 overtime decision to the Ichabods.
The 2014 experience was mentioned early in the week, as the Tigers started to prepare for their next test.
“We already put that in the back of their heads,” Brown said. “(Tuesday’s) practice will be key. We’re going to make sure that we are on top of them, making sure they’re doing things the right way and giving me 110 percent, giving their teammates 110 percent.”
Senior cornerback Raheeme Dumas missed the 2014 game due to injury, but he’s got an idea as to how the Tigers can avoid a similar letdown.
“I think it the biggest thing is just staying humble,” Dumas said. “It was a great win in a tough place and everyone is feeling good right now. I think we just gotta come back to the office (Tuesday) and make sure every one is humble.”
After the Tiger defense gave up 41 points to the Gorillas a week ago, the FHSU coach expects the Ichabods will give the Tiger defense a different look with more of a power-run game. Washburn running backs Mickeel Stewart and Wesley Collins both rushed for more than 100 yards against Missouri Southern last week.
That puts added pressure on the Tigers front four, facing an imposing Washburn offensive line. The Ichabods are third in the conference in rushing at 182.8 yards per game.
“They have to dominate the line of scrimmage. If they don’t do that, defensively, it’s going to be a long day for us because you can’t let those guys to your linebackers,” Brown said.
“We gotta find a way to dominate the line of scrimmage.”
The Tigers will bring the fifth-ranked MIAA run defense into Yager Stadium, and Dumas feels like the Tigers’ scheme counters the run well.
“Our defensive linemen just gotta come to play and our inside (linebackers) just gotta come to play this week,” Dumas said. “They’re going to try to establish the run, like every team does. Through the years, our defense has been more of a run defense, and we’re not going to get away from that.”
Saturday’s game figures to give the Tiger defense a chance to get back to making progress after some regression in Pittsburg.
“Defensively, I think we took a step back, and we can’t do that,” Brown said. “I think special teams-wise took a step back as well. We gotta make sure that we get our defense and special teams back up to par with our offense’s performance last week.”
The offense’s 54 points were a season best with Mezera passing efficiently and picking up yards when the opportunities were present.
The sophomore quarterback hit junior running back Kenneth Iheme out of the backfield for a pair of touchdowns. It was two of nine passes completed to running backs.
Getting the Tiger backs more involved in the passing game appears to give the offense even more options with teams focusing on slowing the FHSU run game.
“If they’re focusing on us, it opens up other routes for the receivers for them to catch the ball and make plays as well,” Iheme said.
“I feel like when we’re all clicking on the same cylinders, we can really be a great offense.”
Despite Mezera’s big numbers of late, teams have still packed the box against the Tigers. Whether or not that changes, will dictate the FHSU offense going forward, the coach said.
“I think now you’re going to see a little bit more of a balanced offense,” Brown said. “We’ll see these next couple weeks how it pans out. If guys keep playing the run as hard as they’re playing them, I guess our passing game will go up a little bit more.”
Another big part of the offense’s success Saturday was improved line play. Mezera credited the unit after Saturday’s game and again at the weekly press conference. Despite a rash of injuries preventing the Tigers from having consistent starters on the line, it’s starting to perform at a high level.
“I thought they gelled a lot better this game than they did the previous week,” Brown said. “I think just all the changes and movement, it’s hard on those guys because there’s a lot of communication that goes on between them.
I think it’s getting better each week.”
The Ichabods two losses this season have come to some of the top teams in the conference. No. 1 Northwest Missouri State dropped Ichabods 41-7 in Week 2 before PSU won 45-27 in Topeka in Week 5.
The Tigers will look to become the third team to knock off Washburn on Saturday. They plan to bring with them the chip on their shoulder that silenced a crowd exceeding 10,000 the week prior.
“I don’t think that’s ever going to go away until we get what we want, and that’s winning the conference,” Mezera said. “That’s always going to be there.”