The Fort Hays State University Tigers put an end to their three-game losing streak and six-game road skid as they defeated Lincoln University Blue Tigers, advancing to 2-3 overall and 2-2 in the MIAA.
“We stressed all week on how to go in there and get a win,” head coach Chris Brown said.
The Tigers pounced on the Blue Tigers early, scoring on their first two possessions of the game. Senior Blake McAhren teamed up with fellow senior Anthony Smith on the opening drive of the game for a seven-yard touchdown pass, capping off an 11-play, 61-yard drive that took under three minutes of play. By the 9:02 mark in the first quarter, the Tigers had extended their lead to 14-0 behind the speed of sophomore Edward Smith, who ran for a 39-yard touchdown run.
“We came out with a good tempo,” McAhren said. “They couldn’t get set.”
Once Fort Hays posted 14 quick points, the Blue Tigers switched things up defensively by putting eight people in the box, slowing the Tigers’ offense.
“Once they started stacking the box, there was a lot of confusion with run-block schemes and pass-protection calls,” McAhren said.
The second quarter was full of troubles for the Tigers, starting with their first drive, fumbling on the first play. The defense and special teams tired, helping the Tiger offense in the second quarter by picking up two blocked punts – one by sophomore Keaton Callins and the other by Smith. But the offense only moved backwards, forcing senior Ethan Kosjer to punt three times in the quarter.
“Offensively, we just got to keep rolling,” Brown said.
Once the second half started, the Tiger defense continued to play strong. Not backing down as the Blue Tigers used a 19-play drive to move deep into Fort Hays territory, senior Nick Dreitz came up with a big interception at the Tigers’ 18-yard line, halting the Lincoln scoring opportunity. The offense stalled on the first possession, and the Tigers followed with their first defensive breakdown, as Lincoln scored on a 97-yard drive capped off by a 48-yard touchdown scramble by Jacob Morris.
“We were playing man coverage, and one guy didn’t cover his gap, and the quarterback kept running,” Brown said.
The Tigers finally capitalized on a gift given by the defense. Sophomore Sherod Murdock forced a fumble deep in Lincoln territory early in the fourth quarter, which led to McAhren picking up his second touchdown pass off the day and hitting tight end senior Chase Leake on the first play from scrimmage after the turnover. The score was 24-14 with 12:24 to go in the game, but the Blue Tigers made the game interesting, scoring a touchdown to make it 24-21 with 1:40 to go. The Tigers recovered the onside kick and picked up the necessary first down to run out the clock and pick up the 24-21 victory.
“ We didn’t play to our best, but we got the victory,” Brown said. “This was the best our defense has played all year.”
Leading the defense against Lincoln was senior Ricky Jacques with a career high in tackles at 18.
“His cover skills are good; he’s a fast, powerful kid,” Brown said.
Fort Hays will have a tough task this year again for their homecoming game as the number six team in the nation, 5-0 Pittsburg State University Gorillas, who are fresh off of a come-from-behind victory over the number-one team in the nation at the time, Northwest Missouri State University.
“When Pitt State gets to rolling, they’re a tough team to beat,” Brown said.
The Gorillas have had the Tigers’ number since the rivalry started leading the series 44-17-9, with the last Fort Hays victory coming all the way back in 1978 when they won 35-30.
“It’s a homecoming game, and we want to go out and give our fans a show,” McAhren said.
Adding to the rivalry this year, new head coach for the Tigers, Brown is a graduate of Pittsburg State and played his college football there where he was an All-American three times and the CNN Division II Player of the Year in 1995.
“It’s coaches alma mater and we want to win for him,” McAhren said.
In last year’s meeting the Tigers had the perfect chance to knock off Pittsburg State as they squandered a 21-14 lead after three quarters and lost 38-21. The last time the Tigers beat a ranked opponent on homecoming was back in 2008 with a win over the number 15 Washburn University. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Lewis Field Stadium.