Fort Hays State's first possession was shaping up to be a tone-setting drive that would make an early statement in the Tigers' home opener against Missouri Western.
The Tigers methodically moved the ball down to the Griffons' 2-yard line for a first-and-goal, only to settle for a Dante Brown field goal.
From there, Fort Hays struggled to gain traction offensively, suffering a 28-17 loss to Missouri Western on Thursday at Lewis Field Stadium. The loss dropped the Tigers to 0-2 for the first time since 2013 and marked their first regular-season home loss since 2016.
After the first quarter field goal, the Tigers came up empty on their next 11 possessions. Western led 21-3 at halftime and maintained the 18-point lead until the middle of the fourth quarter.
"We just have to have playmakers — guys stepping up and making plays when they need to be made, and we didn’t have that tonight," FHSU coach Chris Brown said. "When you look at it across the board, it’s a team loss. We didn’t do very well on offense, we didn’t do very well on defense and we didn’t do very well on special teams.”
The Tigers' first possession featured a 50-yard pass to Dandre Reed, and Charles Tigner moved the chains on a third-and-short to take the Tigers to the MW 2. But a false start penalty took FHSU back to the 7 and Chance Fuller's third-down pass fell incomplete in the end zone.
"We talk all the time about how we can’t have those dumb mistakes,” Brown said. “But we still got to find a way — (the penalty) was five yards. First-and-goal from the seven, we still got to go punch it in and score a touchdown. That’s just all there is to it.”
For the second straight game, a miscue on special teams created a momentum shift that the Tigers had trouble recovering from.
With Western leading 7-3 in the second quarter, FHSU's Layne Bieberle came up empty on a diving attempt to catch a punt, and the officials ruled the ball touched Bieberle. Missouri Western recovered the ball at the Tiger 20 and capitalized on the next play — a 20-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Berry to extend the lead to 14-3
The Griffons tacked on another TD on a 12-yard run from Shamar Griffin with 4:07 left before halftime to take an 18-point lead.
“It just came down to guys doing their assignments,” FHSU senior linebacker Kolt Trachsel said. “Coaches were putting us in the right spots, guys just here and there were missing their assignments and we’ve got to correct that.”
The Tiger defense gave the Fort Hays offense ample opportunity to get a rally started but FHSU came up empty on its first four possessions of the second half, including an interception in the end zone.
Fort Hays finally punched it in with 8:24 left on a 28-yard touchdown pass from Chance Fuller to Manny Ramsey, cutting the deficit to 21-9 with the two-point try failing. The Tiger defense then forced a three-and-out, but FHSU failed to move chains on offense and punter Benjamin Donald was tackled at the FHSU 26 after mishandling the snap.
Western put the game out of reach with a Markel Smith 6-yard touchdown run. The Tigers finished off the scoring with 4-yard TD pass to Hunter Budke before Western sealed it after a failed onside kick by the Tigers.
Fuller threw for 333 yards for the second straight game, completing 23 of 49 passes with two touchdowns and one interception.
“They played man-to-man most of their coverage and I think it was just whoever wanted it more,” said FHSU sophomore receiver Manny Ramsey. “Some of the plays we didn’t want it more and you saw it on the field. We’re just going to have to correct it.”
The Tigers managed just 22 yards rushing, averaging 0.6 yards an attempt.
“We’ve got to do a better job of establishing the run game. We can’t just rely on the pass,” Brown said. “And when we do have to pass the ball, our guys need to catch the ball. I don’t know how many dropped balls our guys had tonight that should have been caught.”
Ramsey caught five passes for 102 yards while Harley Hazlett made five grabs for 90 yards.
Griffons' quarterback Wyatt Steigerwald went 17 of 29 through the air for 179 yards with two touchdown. Devon Holmes made seven catches for 70 yards.
The Tigers will travel to Washburn next Saturday. Kickoff is 1 p.m.
“This group needs to find a way," Brown said. "They need to take a long, hard look in the mirror these next few days and figure out what they’re going to do. There’s a lot of season left. I still think we’re a pretty good football team; we just haven’t shown it yet. We just haven’t put it together.
“I don’t know what it is. Maybe they’re so used to winning that they think it’s going to come easy; it’s not. We’re going to get everybody’s best every single week. Right now everybody’s gunning for us and we’ve lost two in a row. We’ve got to figure out what we’re going to do to get back on the winning track.”