By NICK McQUEEN

nmcqueen@dailynews.net

If there were any question about the steady improvement of the Fort Hays State University football team, the 2014 season went a long way in proving the Tigers are headed in a positive direction.

In their fourth season under coach Chris Brown, the Tigers improved by one win over 2013, finishing with a 7-4 mark in the MIAA. In each of the four seasons under Brown, FHSU has improved by one win. The seven victories this season is the most by a Tiger team since 1996.

And had it not been for a couple of missed opportunities this season, that record could have been better.

The Tigers' season and continued climb is one of the HDN's top stories from 2014.

FHSU's season started with a rough loss where the Tiger defense, much like all season, was solid in a 26-7 loss to the University of Central Oklahoma in the season-opener.

But, the offense in its second year with junior Treveon Albert at quarterback struggled mightily in its first outing.

In Week 2, FHSU switched quarterbacks to transfer Kevin Spain, and switched Albert to a slot role, and it paid off in a 48-13 win against Northeastern State University on the road.

Then, Spain got hurt, and the Tigers switched back to Albert, and couldn't gain much consistency at the position in the early portion of the season.

Still, the Tigers did enough defensively to help FHSU to a 3-1 record in its first four contests. That included a shocking 7-6 win at then No. 8 Pittsburg State University. It was the Tigers' first win against the Gorillas since 1978.

It was the first time the Tigers won in Pittsburg since 1976. That led to FHSU receiving votes in the Division II poll since that poll began in 2000.

After that, though, FHSU suffered back-to-back losses, falling in overtime at Washburn, 27-24, then losing at home 26-7 in the Tigers' homecoming game to Missouri Western State University.

However, FHSU rebounded to win four of its final five games, saving its two best offensive performances for last. FHSU defeated Missouri Southern State Unviersity, 49-41, at home, then went on the road to defeat perennial MIAA contender University of Central MIssouri, 45-17, to end the season. FHSU ran all over the Mules with 289 rushing yards, including 144 for senior Edward Smith and one TD. And Albert passed for 95 yards and three scores, two going to senior receiver Ed Williams.

The Tiger defense finished in the top five in the MIAA in total defense, and was fourth in scoring defense, giving up just 20.9 points per game, but were last or near last in several offensive categories.

Twelve Tigers earned all-MIAA honors, led by first-team selections in Williams and senior defensive back Micheal Jordan. Jordan, who made 80 tackles, had one interception, one sack and three tackeles for loss, also was named to the Daktronics All-Super Region 3 first team. Collecting its most wins in the MIAA, FHSU was three teams that finished 7-4, just missing the cut for one of two postseason bowls of which the MIAA is part. Pittsburg State, which finished 11-2 overall, and Northwest Missouri State University (10-2) were the two MIAA teams to make the playoffs.