STORY BY MAKENNA ALLEN
VIDEO BY HALEY WHITE
The Tigers are 0-1 this week as they travel back to Hays after a 34-30 loss to the University of Central Missouri. After leading the game until just under two minutes of play remained on the clock, the Tigers gave up a touchdown to a UCM team rolling down the field with momentum. Fortunately, that’s not all for Fort Hays Football. Quite the opposite, as the season is just beginning. For the first time this season, the Tigers will kickoff at Lewis Field Stadium Thurs., Sept. 12.
This week, the Tigers look to redeem themselves in play against the Missouri Western State University Griffons. The last time the teams met, the Tigers suffered a 23-13 loss. Last year, in St. Joseph, Mo., the Tigers proved to be just another mark to add to the seven-year streak of home opener victories for the Griffons. This year, however, it’s the Tigers with the home-field advantage and a loss to avenge.
While the Griffons may have taken the victory against the Tigers during the 2018 season, they also enter this week’s game following a loss in week one. No. 4 ranked Northwest Missouri State University defeated the Griffons in St. Joseph while Fort Hays battled against UCM. Now, both teams are looking for their first win of the season. For Tigers’ Head Coach, Chris Brown, failure is not an option.
“Our backs are against the wall,” Brown said. “We’ve got one loss already and in this conference, one loss can sometimes cost you a conference championship.”
Though it’s still early in the season, the Tigers sit slightly above the Griffons in the MIAA rankings. The No. 25 Tigers wrapped up last season with a record of 9-3 while the Griffons went 7-5. However, one of the Tiger’s three losses of the 2018 season was to the Griffons, a fact that keeps Brown and his team on alert as they prepare for this week’s game.
According to Brown, Missouri Western State runs an offense that is fairly similar to that of the Tigers. Their run game, play action, and passing concepts mirror those seen in Fort Hays’ play. A quick-moving quarterback paired with good receivers and good tailbacks makes for a strong offense for the team.
“They’re solid,” Brown said. “They don’t make a lot of mistakes.”
He also suggested that this strength can be attributed to the offensive line that is strong across the board.
Fortunately for the Tigers, however, the Griffons aren’t the only team progressing with a secure offense.
This powerful Tiger offense starts with quarterback, Chance Fuller. The match-up against UCM was the first time Fuller stepped in as the team’s leader. During this time, Fuller threw for a career-high of 333-yards. Additionally, senior running back, Charles Tigner, also added to the list a team record of 65-rushing yards. Despite the fumble late in the game’s fourth quarter, Brown believes that Fuller’s play was a success.
“I thought he managed the game well. He stayed calm and cool,” Brown said. “He made the throws that he needed to make. I think he did an excellent job for the first game.”
Fuller’s offense was not the only component of the team to set Tiger history. Junior linebacker and transfer from the University of Kansas, Drew Harvey, finished the game with a team-high eight tackles. Kicker, Dante Brown, also secured a 51-yard field goal that proved to be a career-best.
Despite these individual successes, Brown feels that the offensive line struggled to unite on the field, a process that will ultimately require time playing as a group.
In this week’s game, the Tigers won’t be the only team working to improve as a group. The Griffons, themselves, are working with a new senior quarterback, Wyatt Steigerwald. During last week’s game, Steigerwald completed three touchdown passes and had two rushing scores. However, he also threw two interceptions and was sacked three times during play against Norwest Missouri State. Unlike Fuller, however, who played in 10 games last season and started in two, Steigerwald only took the field in four games during the 2018 season.
Though this quarterback may be a new addition to the offense, the Griffons look to the experience of their offensive line for success. In particular, left tackle Shawn Rouse, and center, Hayden Eatinger, bring seniority. The two players have started in 34 consecutive games. Eatinger was also recently named Preseason All-American by D2Football.com. This is the same title the organization awarded to Fort Hays kicker, Dante Brown.
The Tigers have noted these key players while watching film this week. However, Coach Brown believes that the success of the Fort Hays team lies in focus on the internal.
“We need to worry about what we’re doing and make ourselves better and understand what they’re trying to do to us offensively and defensively,” Brown said.
Where to Watch:
While the Tigers prepare mentally and physically for their home opener, it’s time for Fort Hays fans to come out and support the team. Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m. on Thurs., Sept. 12. Tickets are on sale online now at the link found below. Fans can also purchase tickets at the doors. Watching the game remotely is always a possibility for individuals who are MIAA Network subscribers with season passes.
No matter how you watch, Brown emphasizes the impact of the crowd upon the team. Tigers, it’s football time. Thursday is the night to pack Lewis Field Stadium so the Griffons hear a roar.