The Fort Hays State University football team stretched its losing streak to six as they fell to No. 13 Pittsburg State University 34-7 on Saturday in Lewis Field Stadium.
With the loss, the Tigers move to 1-6 in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association and 2-7 overall while the Gorillas advance to 8-1 in the MIAA and 6-1 overall.
PSU lived up to its quick-strike reputation as none of their scoring drives took more than nine plays to assemble.
“Everything that we saw today, we knew it was coming – the trick plays, the option,” sophomore free safety Seth Blackwell said. “They just had some big plays in the passing game.”
Senior quarterback Mark Smith led his Gorillas with 192 yards passing and a touchdown while senior running back Caleb Farabi rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.
“They have had that tandem back there for a couple of years now with Mark and Caleb,” Verdugo said. “They have a very big offensive line. That does aid them in some ways. They can kind of hide behind there with some of the things they do.”
The Gorillas ended the game with no turnovers and were only tackled for a loss once.
Losing the battle for field position, the injury-stricken Tiger offense was never given a short field. FHSU’s best starting field position was on its own 24-yard line.
This did not bode well for a team that is missing a starter at nearly every skill position. The Tigers came into the game missing four potential scorers: quarterback Mike Garrison, who is out for the year with a broken jaw; kicker Nathan Rausa, who is out for the year with a broken leg; running back Jacobb Irvin, who is out with an injured ankle; and fullback Cody Palmer, who is out with an injured arm.
Though the starting wide receiver was not injured, sophomore Anthony Smith had to switch positions to quarterback following Garrison’s injury against Truman State University on Sept. 27.
“Right now, we are trying to keep everybody as fresh as we can every week – mentally and physically,” Head Coach Kevin Verdugo said. “Once you get into the conference, it is a meat grinder. If you start getting nicked up and dinged up too much, that has a tremendous effect on your football team.”
In his fourth start at quarterback, Smith had his second-best passing performance, completing 15-of-28 passes for 145 yards and one interception.
Smith scored the lone Tiger touchdown on his feet, but that was all. The PSU defense punished Smith, holding him to zero yards on 15 carries.
Knocked around all night, Smith would come off the field bruised and battered, but Verdugo said he always bounced back.
“Once they take the shoulder pads off to look at you, a lot of guys might just sit back and say ‘okay,’” Verdugo said. “I turned around and looked back, and he was strapping them back on and getting ready to go.”
Replacing Irvin, junior Anthony Dickson led his team in rushing and receiving yards, carrying the ball 12 times for 79 yards and catching two passes for 31 yards.
“(Dickson) stepped up today,” Verdugo said. “I thought he ran the hardest that I have ever seen him run all year. He ran behind his pads and ran with some power. I was happy to see him do that. He is only going to get better and better with time.”
However, the Tigers only had one drive that got them into scoring position.
Despite being down 27-0 in the third quarter, Smith led his team on a 20-play, 82-yard drive that took nine minutes and 10 seconds.
Nearly stalling in the red zone, Smith scored on a one-yard dive on fourth and goal.
Prior to this, the Tigers had only one drive that went for more than five plays.
“That is one of the things when you struggle a little offensively to move the football, you start trussing, trying to find some big plays maybe where they are not,” Verdugo said. “Sometimes the big play is that little play right in front of us.”
Senior punter Tyler Elder continued to wage war in the battle for field position, punting seven times and averaging 43.9 yards per punt. He boomed three for 50 yards or more.
“I try to get the perfect snap to him so he has the opportunity to keep punting like he wants to do at the next level. He is a heck of a punter and a heck of a teammate,” said sophomore Drew Steffen, long snapper and wide receiver.