With a huge home matchup with Northwest Missouri State looming next week, the Fort Hays State football team will look to stay focused on the task at hand this week, facing Lincoln at 1 p.m. Saturday in Jefferson City, Mo.
With Lincoln sitting 1-7 on the season, the 6-2 Tigers are guarding against peeking ahead to Northwest.
"You try not to (look ahead)," FHSU coach Chris Brown said. "We're going to do the things that our kids do well. Coach them up and get them ready for this game. Not try to do too much and get crazy, just try to stay focused and stay locked in.
"Knowing that Northwest is next week, it's hard, especially when Lincoln is 1-7. But (the Blue Tigers) are still wanting to win a ball game, they're still scrapping and fighting. And when you watch them on film, they play hard. We just can't let them hang around. We got to get in there and battle and compete and try to put them away early."
The Tigers, ranked No. 9 in Super Region 3, will take a six-game winning streak into Saturday while Lincoln is coming off a 56-9 loss to Northwest after picking up its lone win with a 27-9 victory over Northeastern State the week before. The Blue Tigers returned the MIAA this season after five years of playing in the Great Lakes Valley Conference,
"If we start getting ahead of ourselves and look past this team, they'll come up and probably beat us," FHSU junior cornerback Isaiah Creal-Musgray said. "You never want to look past an opponent. You treat every opponent like Northwest, like the big team in the conference. If you don't, this is a conference where anybody can beat you."
The Fort Hays offense put up a season-high 514 yards in last week's 37-31 win over Nebraska-Kearney, with sophomore quarterback Chance Fuller throwing for a career-best 435 yards. FHSU put up 42 points the week before against Pitt State.
"We just needed to figure out how to click," FHSU senior tight end Matt Wendelberger said. "It was just repetitions in practice, getting in the film room and just doing everything right on the field, off the field, in the weights, in film study. We had to reevaluate ourselves in every aspect of life, and it's paying off on Saturdays."
Senior receiver Layne Bieberle has been a major weapon for the Tigers, catching 11 passes for 324 yards with three touchdowns over the last two weeks.
"I think his confidence level has grown," Brown said. "He's got his confidence back, he's running a little bit faster. He's been more physical in his route running as well. He's wanting the ball, he's going up and attacking the football instead of letting it hit him in the chest. I think he just changed his attitude and the way he was playing the game. You have to be physical as a wide receiver because there are physical corners out there in this conference that are going to jam you and try to keep you at the line of scrimmage.
"He's really improved the last few weeks. I think the things that he's doing, it all comes down to confidence. He's always had it; he just needed to believe in himself and see that he could do it. Now he's doing those things."
Lincoln running back Hosea Franklin has already rushed 1,048 yards, averaging 6.4 yards a carry. Lincoln ranks next to last in the conference in scoring offense (98 points) and scoring defense (365).
"It's one of those teams that are talented in certain spots, they just don't have it all together yet," Creal-Musgray said. "They're starting in the MIAA this year and it's a tough conference to play in. They do have great talent on both sides of the ball, they just haven't clicked yet. Who knows? This might be the week that the click, and we can't take them for granted."