BY MAKENNA ALLEN
This week in Tiger football, head Coach Chris Brown, returns once again to step on the field at Pittsburg State University. Though his appearance will not be as a player, Brown looks to thoroughly prepare his now 4-2 Tiger team to take on the 5-1 Gorillas in Carnie Smith Stadium.
Last time the two teams met, the Tigers had the home-field advantage and emerged from the match-up victorious by a 29-point margin. At the time that Fort Hays defeated 50-21 Pittsburg State, the latter was ranked 18th nationally. As the two teams head into this week’s game, Pittsburg sits at No. 25.
The team was bumped from the No. 19 position following a 38-17 loss to the Northwest Missouri State University Bearcats at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. After Northwest Missouri gained momentum from a pair of trick plays early in the game, the Gorillas struggled to recover.
Despite the difficulties they faced, the Gorillas currently sit at No. 21 in the D2Football.com rankings. In order for the team to find this success, Brown suggests that the Gorillas are strong on both sides of the ball.
The challenges in facing the Gorillas begin with the team’s unique offense. Indeed, the Pittsburg State team rotates between two, and sometimes even three different quarterbacks, each with his own form of offense.
Depending on the play, the Tiger defense will be faced with either sophomore quarterback, Brandon Miekus or redshirt freshman, Mak Sexton. Each player runs a different offense for which the Tigers must prepare.
“We have number two (Miekus) who likes to run the triple option, likes to keep the ball to himself and then five (Sexton) will come and will line up in shotgun and spread the offense out,” defensive lineman, Kiel Simas, said. “Five is looking to throw the ball. He is not really a strong runner but he will keep the ball and take off.”
Both quarterbacks have contributed to the team’s average of 42-points per game (compared to 31 for the Tigers). The Gorillas also average 184.8 rushing yards per game and 245.8-yard in the air.
The two players are also working to keep up the Pittsburg State team image that is known for its quick strike method. In the past 161 games, the Gorillas have scored on their first drive 76 times.
This offense isn’t the only potential battle for the Tigers this Saturday. According to Brown, Pittsburg State can attribute a portion of its success this season to its powerful defense.
“Their d-line is probably one of the best d-lines that we’ve seen all year long. They’re very physical up front,” Brown said. “They’ve got some linebackers that run really well. They’ve got two really good corners that can man-up anybody. And their safeties are very talented as well.”
As a strong defense pairs with a variable offense, Brown recognizes specific scenarios for which his team must prepare.
“I think those are the biggest things we’ve got to work on this week: getting off the ball against the penetration and trying to cause havoc in the backfield, linebackers not getting cut, and safeties getting ready to get downhill and make plays but not get beat by the play action deep,” Brown said.
However, it may be more than just the team itself that the Tigers must face. As they travel to Pittsburg, they plan to encounter a loud crowd at Carnie Smith Stadium. According to Brown, however, the atmosphere may be to the Tigers’ benefit.
“Even though this is going to be another group of fans cheering someone else on, I think our kids feed off that energy,” Brown said. “We’re going to turn the music up loud at practice this week just to get used to the noise. But I think our guys like it.”
Brown’s players echoed this sentiment.
“It’s just overwhelming when you first step on the field. It gives you chills up the back of your neck,” Simas said. “Most football players like that kind of crowd that will bump up the intensity that much more. We’re up for the challenge.”
The Tiger players must be ready for this challenge. The 2019 Pittsburg roster does, in fact, feature a starting line-up of nationally recognized players.
This list starts with wide receiver, Lorenzo West, who has a team high this season of 17 catches for 372-yards. He currently stands as 6th in school history for receiving yards and receptions (113).
While West makes his name with the Gorilla offense, defensive tackle Simanu’a Thomas, has earned the title of two time All-America. He also stands as a three-time All-MIAA player.
The name of kicker, Jared Vincent, should also be noted as he leads all collegiate kickers (in all divisions of play) in field goals per game and kick scoring.
Fortunately, the Tigers enter the game with their own decorated kicker. Following his contribution to the Tigers’ 19-3 victory over Emporia State University last weekend, Fort Hays kicker, Dante Brown, was named MIAA Special Teams Athlete of the Week. This is the second time Brown has earned the title this year.
The Tigers strive to harness Brown’s skill as well as the abilities of other nationally ranked players on the team. Quarterback, Chance Fuller, currently sits 7th in the NCAA Division II ranking for average passing yards. Wide receiver, Harley Hazlett, joins Fuller as he sits 15th in NCAA Division II rankings for average receiving yards per game.
As these players go head to head in Pittsburg, Kansas this weekend, the Tigers will be looking for their fifth victory of the season against one of the top Division II football teams in the nation. Tiger fans can show their support by tuning in to watch the game with an MIAA Network Subscription or by keeping up with updates through Tiger Media Network. Either way, don’t forget that kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. this weekend in Pittsburg, Ks..