Tigers host No. 3 NW Missouri
By CONOR NICHOLL
Junior defensive lineman Jesse Trent is an authoritative presence for the Fort Hays State University football team. Trent has played in all 24 possible games in his career and has started 13 in a row. The 6-foot-3, 270-pound Trent, one of the team captains, is well-spoken with a booming voice.
On Tuesday, Trent was bold and blunt in his assessment of the 0-2 Tigers, a squad that has collectively lost 97-30 to Emporia State University and Washburn University. Trent's key phrase was "flashes of brilliance" for a Tiger group that has played well at times, but has allowed multiple big plays, thrown six interceptions and had two kicks blocked.
"It's about bringing it and putting it all together," Trent said. "There was flashes of brilliance in the last two games on both sides of the ball and on special teams. Now, it's turning those flashes into full drives and an entire game. If we can do that, we can start winning ballgames."
On Saturday, FHSU will receive another big test when Northwest Missouri State University (2-0) comes to Lewis Field Stadium. The annual Tailgreat contest is scheduled for 7 p.m. against the Bearcats, ranked No. 3 in NCAA Division II.
"Discipline is a huge part of Division II football, especially in the MIAA," Trent said of the team's struggles. "We have been called the SEC of Division II multiple times and you can't win if you are not disciplined. Period. End of story."
FHSU has lost nine straight to Northwest Missouri, including seven in a row since the Tigers joined the MIAA. For many FHSU players, this marks the first meeting against arguably the nation's best team in the last 15 years. In Week 4, Fort Hays travels to No. 6 Missouri Western State University.
"If you haven't played in this conference before and you haven't played those teams, it's tough to understand," Trent said. "When I came in as a freshman, I had no idea. You kind of get thrown to the dogs at first. You get it figured out by the end of the first quarter that this is no ordinary game. They are coming for your throat, to put it in a little graphic manners. Those are people that we should try to imitate. If we can imitate what they do everyday, we can be at that same level."
In Week 1, FHSU trailed 17-6 early in the third quarter and had a great chance to close it to 17-13. Last week, the Tigers opened the game with three solid drives. However, it resulted in a missed field goal, a touchdown and a turnover on downs inside Washburn territory. The Ichabods started with a field goal, and two touchdowns.
Then, FHSU had two punts and four interceptions and no points on its next seven drives. Washburn scored touchdowns on seven straight possessions and ran away with the game.
"We got a little behind and we kind of panicked a little bit and we tried to hit the long ball instead of just doing what we were doing and going with what was working," third-year coach Chris Brown said.
Sophomore quarterback Treveon Albert has led the Tigers to the No. 12 passing efficiency out of 14 MIAA teams. FHSU does have four passing TDs, but a league-high six interceptions. Against Washburn, Albert had no turnovers in the first half and led the team to 167 yards. In the second half, Albert often tried to throw long passes, plays that often resulted in turnovers.
"I was very pleased when he was calm, cool and acted like the quarterback that we wanted," Brown said. "When he started doing his own thing and trying to make things happen and force some things, I wasn't very pleased with him. But that first half, I was very pleased with his performance."
Defensively, FHSU continues to have trouble on third down. Opponents have converted 59.5 percent (22 of 37) on third downs. Among MIAA teams, only University of Central Oklahoma's defense has a worse rate on third down.
Trent called the percentage "troublesome" and laid responsibility on the entire defense. Up front, FHSU has to get more pressure. In the back, the Tigers have to eliminate the big play. The Tigers allowed three plays of at least 43 yards last week, two for scores. In Week 1, FHSU allowed four scores of at least 28 yards and a 64-yard pass.
"You see flashes of brilliance all over the field, here, there," Trent said. "It's every other play sometimes. When you have a flash of brilliance over here and you have a breakdown over here, it kind of nullifies it. We have got to get to the point where everybody is solid across the board. Once we are solid across the board, we are going to see more flashes of brilliance."