STORY BY MAKENNA ALLEN
It’s week four of the Tiger football season and the team has its first win under its belt. Last week, the Tigers squeaked out a 41-38 victory in overtime against the Washburn Ichabods. A 30-yard field goal by kicker Dante Brown sealed the game for the Tigers. They now stand 1-2 in the MIAA and are looking for another win in Hays this weekend.
This week, the 1-2 Missouri Southern State University Lions travel from Joplin, Mo. to take on the Tigers. The Lions suffered losses to Nebraska-Kearney and Northwest Missouri in weeks one and three. However, according to Tigers’ Head Coach, Chris Brown, the recently reconstructed Lions program presents a new challenge for a team that is just starting to gain back its confidence.
“It’s going to be a tough game. They’re a good team,” Brown said. “They’re a lot better than what their record shows right now.”
The Missouri Southern record might mirror that of the Tigers but the comparison between the two teams doesn’t end there.
For the Tigers, last week’s victory in Topeka was not an easy fight. Throughout the game, the team battled several obstacles that included an injured quarterback, Chance Fuller. Fuller was pulled from the game and placed on concussion protocol during the game’s fourth quarter after hitting the ground hard on a sack. Junior quarterback, Voshon Waiters, stepped into Fuller’s position and lead the team into field goal range for Dante Brown to wrap up the game with a field goal.
Brown suggests that this adversity only enhanced the Tigers’ confidence once they emerged from the game with their first win of the season.
“That was a huge win for us because a lot of things happened in that game that didn’t go our way,” Brown said.
In spite of these challenges, the Tigers improved both offensively and defensively when compared to previous weeks of play.
Running back, Charles Tigner, led the team in rushing yards with 125-yards on 27 carries. Wide receiver, Harley Hazlett, had 105 receiving yards. Meanwhile, defensive back, Tanner Hoekman led the defense with 10 tackles and one interception.
These successes among many more served to boost the team’s overall statistics.
As they head into this week’s match-up against the Lions, Fort Hays averages 29.3-points per game. Their total rushing yardage to date is 312-yards (with an average of 104.2-yards per game). Fuller also averages 333 passing yards per game.
The Lions, by comparison, currently average 33-points per game and have a total rushing yardage of 397-yards (an average of 132.3-yards per game). The team’s senior quarterback, Jacob Park, also holds a similar per-game average passing yardage of 331-yards.
Though the Lions suffered a loss last week to Northwest Missouri, Brown suggests there may be underlying reasons. Indeed, the 2019 Missouri Southern football team is not the same group that went 1-10 last season.
According to Brown, when the Lion’s new head coach, Jeff Sims, took over the program, the game changed.
Brown suggests that the former Garden City coach “cleaned house” when it came to the existing Missouri Southern football program.
“It’s a whole new group. They don’t really know what Missouri Southern has been in the past. They’re there to win ball games,” Brown said. “All these guys have played at the junior college level, winning ball games; at Division 1 level, winning ball games. So they know how to win. they’re just trying to put it all together now and get on the same page and get things done.”
The big question then remains: who are these new players and what do they bring to the table that keeps the Tigers alert?
The long list of transfer players for the Lions begins with the team’s quarterback, Jacob Park. Park spent his first year of college at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M before he transferred to Iowa State to play football. Now, he brings his skills to the rising Missouri Southern team. In last week’s game, Park threw for 442 yards. This statistic made him the first Lion to throw for over 400 yards since Adam Hinspeter in 2008.
The list of D1 transfer players doesn’t end there. Defensive back and transfer from Purdue, David Rose, also stood out in the game against Northwest Missouri with six tackles and five pass breakups.
Other transfer students from community colleges around the country include: defensive backs, John Ejizu and Jaylon Alexander, linebacker, Chris Leaks Jr., and defensive lineman, Jamie Tago.
Though some of these transfers are not new to the team for the 2019 season, the returning players must work to unite with the transfers as well as former high school students to create a new identity for the Missouri Southern team. According to Brown, this is exactly what they are doing.
“It’s going to be a challenge for us. There are different kids playing each week, trying to find out who’s going to be their guy,” Brown said. “We’ve got to be ready for whoever it is on the field, stay to our rules offensively and our blocking schemes and understand what they’re trying to do to us and make sure we’ve got our numbers right so we can protect our quarterback.”
Protecting Fuller takes on a new meaning for the Tigers this week. Though the sophomore quarterback was placed on concussion protocol over the weekend, Brown has seen daily improvement in his condition and is optimistic about his ability to start against the Lions.
Even if Fuller is not ready for play, the Tigers have a plan.
“If Chance is ready, we’ll play him and if not, we’ll go with Voshon and he’ll do a great job for us,” Brown said.
No matter what, a strong offense is key for the Tigers this weekend as Brown looks to establish the run game and create big plays. He also suggests that the game will be won in the details of play.
“This game is going to be one in the trenches and who makes the least amount of mistakes,” Brown said.
Join the Tigers in the trenches Sat., Sept. 28 at Lewis Field Stadium. Don’t miss kickoff at 7:00 p.m. or tune in to the MIAA Network with a season pass.