Fort Hays State football coach Chris Brown thought his team thrived off the atmosphere in last week's homecoming game at Lewis Field Stadium, helping the Tigers notch a sound 19-3 victory over Emporia State.
Even though Saturday's 1 p.m. game at Pittsburg State's Carnie Smith Stadium figures to be a hostile environment for the Tigers, Brown thinks his players can feed off the energy again.
"I think you saw (FHSU feed off the energy) at our stadium, having almost 7,000 people there and the noise from the crowd and the fans cheering us on," Brown said. "Even though this is going to be another group of fans cheering somebody else on, I think our kids feed off that energy. We're going to turn the music up loud this week in practice, just to kind of get used to the noise. I think our guys like it. They're always up for a challenge and they want to try to silence the crowd; that crowd never gets silent no matter what. But I think our kids really go feed off those type of things."
The No. 19-ranked Gorillas, who will be hosting homecoming Saturday, have drawn at least 8,000 fans in each of their first three home games this season. Brown said communication will be key for the 4-2 Tigers, who enter on a four-game win streak.
"Offensively, it's just hearing the cadence and getting the snap count," Brown said. "That's the biggest part. ... With the front line, it's making sure they hear (FHSU quarterback Chance Fuller's) voice and that's all they listen to and focus on. I think if we do that, we'll be fine."
Pitt State (5-1) took its first loss last week, suffering a 38-17 setback against Northwest Missouri State in Arrowhead Stadium. The Gorillas are averaging 42 points per game while allowing 21.2 on defense.
"They're good," Brown said. "Their defensive line is probably one of the best D lines we've seen all year long. They're very physical up front. The linebackers run really well. They play some man coverage and have two really good corners that can man up anybody, I think. And their safeties are very talented as well. They do a good job of just taking things away from you, whether it's the run or the pass."
The Tigers will have to prepare for two different Gorilla quarterbacks. Max Sexton is the Gorillas' passing QB while Brandon Mlekus is more of a threat to run, leading the team with 264 rushing yards. Lorenzo West is the Gorillas' top receiver with 22 receptions for 535 yards and five touchdowns.
"You're going to get two tight ends, two running backs, it's going to be veer option with play-action off of it," Brown said of the Gorillas offensive style. "And it's going to be linemen in a four-point stance coming after you, trying to cut block you. We need to focus on getting off the ball and getting some penetration, trying to cause havoc in the backfield."
The Tigers rolled to a 50-21 victory over the Gorillas last year in Hays. FHSU has won four of the last five meetings with Pitt State after going winless against the Gorillas in 20 straight games from 1979 to 2011. The Tigers have also won their last two meetings in Pittsburg.
Fort Hays State leads the MIAA in scoring defense, allowing 18.8 points per game. Fuller is among the national leaders in several categories, ranking ninth in NCAA Division II for passing yards (1,711) and passing yards per game (285.2), fifth in passing touchdowns (18), 10th in completions per game (22.5) and and 15th in total offense per game (280.5).
Defensive back KiAnte Hardin has a team-high three interceptions for the Gorillas while KAden Roy leads Pitt State in tackles with 46.