Tigers to face Nebraska-Kearney in Homecoming challenge

By Randy Gonzales
Special to the Hays Daily News

After a slow start this season, Fort Hays State University’s running game showed signs of life in Week 3 and continued that success in last week’s 42-21 MIAA victory at Missouri Southern.

Fort Hays left tackle Pat Kelly lines up to protect the quarterback during a game in the 2019 season. Kelly is one of the leaders on the Tigers’ offensive line.

The Tigers rushed for 311 yards in a 72-0 win over Lincoln (Mo.) two weeks ago, with sophomore Adrian Soto gaining 100 yards. In last week’s win, Soto rushed for 198 yards and two scores and the Tigers gained 273 yards on the ground.

Helping pave the way for the Tigers’ running attack has been junior left tackle Pat Kelly. The 6-foot-7, 300-pounder, who started all 11 games in 2019, said it took time for the offensive line to come together.

“We had three starters come in,” Kelly said. “It took us a second to mesh. We are communicating better, we’re all playing on the same page.

“It’s nice to watch,” he added. “We had talent. Now we’re starting to put it all together.”

Kelly said the offensive line likes to see the Tiger running backs put up big numbers.

“You stand a little taller when you rush for over a hundred yards, knowing that you dominated the people across from you, they couldn’t stop you,” he said. “All in all, it’s whatever scores touchdowns.”

University of Nebraska-Kearney (4-0) does whatever it takes to score touchdowns. The Lopers have relied in the past on the legs of quarterback T.J. Davis. But Davis, now a redshirt junior, has added the passing game to his repertoire. Davis has rushed for 547 yards and nine touchdowns and thrown for 749 yards and five TDs. He ran for 1,034 yards and 16 scores in 2019.

“We’ve got to know our assignments every single play,” Tiger redshirt-freshman linebacker Myles Menges said. “Just be ready, because they can cut the ball back anytime they want.”

Fort Hays is now 2-2 after dropping its first two games. Coach Chris Brown said preparing for the Lopers’ ground game has been difficult as the Tigers look for their third straight win.

Fort Hays left tackle Pat Kelly lines up to protect the quarterback during a game in the 2019 season. Kelly is one of the leaders on the Tigers’ offensive line.

“You just don’t see it enough through the year,” Brown said. “The goal is to make (Davis) hand the ball off, find ways to stop their run game.”

A big Homecoming crowd is expected for the 7 p.m. kickoff at Lewis Field Stadium.

“That’s something to add to it, but we’re all looking to Nebraska-Kearney,” Kelly said. “We’re looking to get a win, because that’s the most important thing on the agenda. It’s nice to have people in the stands, but it’s always coming out with the ‘W’ first.”

The Lopers are coming off close victories in their last two games.

“It’s a huge game,” Brown said. “We’re 2-2, they could easily be 2-2 right now with the close game against Central Missouri and a close game against Washburn.

“I think our kids will be prepared, will be ready,” he added. “It’s going to be a fun game, an exciting game. I can’t wait for it to get here.”