Playing Missouri Southern has been a cakewalk for the top MIAA teams in recent years, but Fort Hays State coach Chris Brown is preparing his team for a new-look Lion squad that can present some challenges.
Former Garden City Community College coach Jeff Sims overhauled Southern's roster in his first year in Joplin, loading up on transfers.
Brown, whose Tigers will host Missouri Southern at 7 p.m. Saturday at Lewis Field Stadium, says the Lions already have a noticeable upgrade in talent. Southern had a total of one win during the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
"We're talking to our kids about the different type of kids they have now; it's not the same type of kids that were there last year," Brown said. "Sims came in and basically cleaned house from what I see. It's a whole new group, so they really don't know what Missouri Southern has been in the past. They're there to win ball games, because a lot of these guys have played at the junior college level, winning ball games, and at the Division I level, winning ball games. They know how to win. They're just trying to put it all together and get on the same page and get things figured out."
Missouri Southern (1-2) earned its first win under Sims with a 38-14 win over Lincoln in Week 2 before falling 66-34 to Northwest Missouri State last week. Quarterback Jacob Park, an Iowa State transfer, threw the ball a whopping 66 times against Northwest, completing 29 passes for 442 yards with three touchdowns, despite six interceptions. The Lions had three receivers notch 100-yard receiving games — Dwayne Lawson, Benjamin Phillips and Brian Boyd.
"They have quite a few talented receivers," FHSU sophomore defensive back Jordan Starks said. "Their quarterback has probably one of the strongest arms in the conference. Watching the film, he'll just drop it back and let it fly. They are great at high-pointing the ball, so that's going to be one of our biggest tests to date."
Park has already thrown for 993 yards on the season, with eight touchdowns and nine interceptions.
"The kid can run, he buys time and he can throw the ball," Brown said. "He's got big receivers that go and make plays and offensive linemen that are very talented and strong and play physical.
"I feel like it's going to be a physical game again, especially up front. We have to win that battle in the trenches."
FHSU starting quarterback Chance Fuller's status for the game is uncertain, but Brown said earlier in the week that he was optimistic Fuller would be able to play. The sophomore left the fourth quarter of last week's game against Washburn after being slammed hard to the turf on a sack.
If Fuller can't play, Voshon Waiters, will earn the start. Waiters entered the Washburn game after Fuller's injury and helped the Tigers pull out a 41-38 win.
Starks said the Tigers are looking to ride the momentum from last week's finish.
"It's definitely a confidence booster to get that monkey off our back and get that first win of the season," Starks said. "Now we're just focused on the next game. We can't rest on our laurels."
"It's going to be a tough game," Brown said. "They're a lot better than what their record shows."
Fireworks and Football
Reserved tickets for on the west side cost $16, general admission tickets on the east side or behind the end zones cost $12, and kids K-12th grade general admission tickets cost $5. Tickets can be purchased at the door, online at fhsuathletics.com, or in the Athletic Department located in Cunningham Hall 138. Once the game is over, there will be a 10 minute countdown until the lights are turned off and a fireworks show will start behind the south end zone. Sponsors of this year’s show are the Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau, Horizon Appliance and Electronics, and J.DAY Fireworks.