STORY BY MAKENNA ALLEN
It’s just t-minus two days until the 2019 FHSU Football season begins.
The Tigers are on the prowl for their first opponent, the University of Central Missouri Mules, though it wasn’t long ago that these teams went head to head. In fact, the Tigers kicked off the 2018 season, playing at home against UCM. The Tigers trailed the Mules until there were less than seven minutes remaining in the game. The comeback, however, was swift thanks to a 37-yard touchdown by the Tigers and an unforced fumble by the UCM quarterback. The crowd roared as the Tigers walked away from the home opener with a victory of 20-16.
Now, as Sept. 5 draws near, Tiger fans will learn whether or not history repeats itself. But before the team travels to Warrensburg, Mo., let’s take a look at some key stats and players to watch.
The latest buzz for Tiger Football arises from the recent release of the 2019 D2Football.com Preseason Top 25 Media Poll and Preseason All-America Teams. Among three MIAA teams listed in the ranking, FHSU stands at No. 8. The Tigers were also recently ranked No. 11 in the AFCA Division II Top 25 Poll. UCM, by comparison, did not make the cut by either organization. However, they are ranked fourth in the MIAA preseason media poll and fifth in the coaches poll.
This difference in ranking is a reflection of the 2018 season outcomes for both teams. The Tigers wrapped up the regular 2018 with a record of 9-3, enough to take home their second consecutive title of MIAA Champions. The Mules, however, finished their season with a record of 5-6. The UMC Athletics website cites losses against FHSU and Washburn University as two of its key defeats.
Key statistics for each team can be broken down farther than just season records, however. It’s important to note that last season, the Mules led the MIAA with 466.2 total yards of offense. They also averaged 34.7 points per game, a figure that was ranked second in the league. The Tigers trailed slightly behind this statistic as they averaged 30.4 points per game.
Whether or not these stats will shift thanks to the skills of starting quarterback, Chance Fuller, remains to be seen. The sophomore out of Arlington, Texas will be taking the lead of the team following the graduation of former quarterback, Jacob Mezera. This is not Fuller’s first time on the field for the Tigers, however. In fact, Fuller played as a redshirt freshman in 10 of last season’s games, even starting in two of those. In this time, Fuller threw for 1,185-yards and seven touchdowns.
Even as the Tigers are beginning the 2019 season with a new starting quarterback, the Mules are preparing for their final season with senior quarterback, Book Bolles. Bolles was a 2017 Harlon Hill Finalist and led Division II total offense that same year with an average of 360.2-yards per game.
Bolles is one of 15 returning starters for the Mules. Among other starters to be noted is running back, Devante Turner. Last season, Turner was an All-MIAA selection at two positions. He works alongside redshirt junior running back, Koby Wilkerson, who was second for the Mules in rushing yards.
Though many key players return to the field for UCM, the Tigers also plan for the return of 16 seniors. This figure represents the greatest number of seniors that Tigers’ Head Coach, Chris Brown, has seen in the program since he began coaching in Hays nine years ago.
Just one of the shining stars among those seniors is kicker, Dante Brown. Along with the release of the top 25 teams, D2Football.com named Brown to the Preseason All-America Team. Last season, he was also named All-America selection by the same organization as well as two others. The 2018 season was indeed a standout year for Brown as he led all levels of the NCAA in the number of field goals made per game at 2.33. He also concluded the season after shattering FHSU and MIAA records for the number of field goals kicked in a season (28).
Where to Watch:
Though Tiger fans can’t watch Brown and the rest of the team from Lewis Field Stadium this Thursday, they can view the action from the comfort of their own homes. This year, the FHSU season opener against UCM has been selected as a part of the NCAA Football Showcase.
The game will be featured as one of the “hybrid model” games. This means that the game will be available to watch online, through NCAA social media accounts, as well as on conference and school digital networks.
FHSU Athletics is also offering a Free-to-View version of the game on its Facebook page.
Check the ESPN3 channel or the social media listings below to watch the action in real-time. Tiger football is only here for 11 games of regular play. Don’t miss a second.
Division II Facebook: facebook.com/ncaadivisionii
Division II Twitter: @NCAADII
Fort Hays State University Athletics Facebook: facebook.com/fhsuathletics