Following a stinging 38-17 loss to Northwest Missouri the Gorillas return to Carnie Smith Stadium for a homecoming matchup with the Fort Hays State Tigers.
Saturday’s game will be the 78th all-time meeting between the Gorillas and Tigers with Pitt State holding the 44-22-9 advantage in the series.
Last year, the Tigers rallied from a 14-12 deficit scoring 31 unanswered points, defeating the Gorillas 50-21 in Hays on Oct. 13.
Hays struggled early this season opening with back to back losses to Central Missouri and Missouri Western. However, the Tigers have bounced back and are on a four-game win streak, sitting at 4-2 on the season. The Tigers are coming off of a 19-3 win over Emporia State last week.
Gorilla head coach Tim Beck said fans shouldn’t read too much into the Tigers’ early struggles.
“They played Central Missouri and Missouri Western, two good teams that they lost to,” Beck said. “Those games can go either way at times and I think they just kind of got on the short end of those two games. They’re a very talented team and they’ve been tied for the conference championship the last two seasons, so they know how to win games.”
The Tigers average 438.2 yards of offense per game with 295.5 of those coming from the passing game. Hays is ranked sixth in the MIAA in scoring with 31.0 points per game.
“They throw it a little bit more than they did in the past; their quarterback and running backs are extremely talented with three or four receivers you really have to pay attention to,” Beck said. “They’ll be in single back formation most of the time, and they have two backs that switch in and out, but both are very talented.”
The Hays offense is led by sophomore quarterback Chance Fuller. Fuller, 6-3/215, has completed 135 of 217 passes (.622) for 1,711 yards, averaging 285.2 yards per game with 18 touchdowns and four interceptions.
Senior running backs Charles Tigner and D.J. Hickman key the Tigers’ rushing attack. Tigner has 109 carries for 474 yards and a touchdown. Hickman has 275 yards on 46 carries and a touchdown.
Senior wide receiver Harley Hazlett leads the Tigers with 40 catches for 541 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 13.5 yards per reception.
Defensively, the Tigers have allowed 18.9 points and 353.3 yards per game. Hays leads the conference in scoring defense allowing only 14 touchdowns through six games.
Fort Hays’ defense is led by junior linebacker Drew Harvey who is second in the conference with 50 tackles this season. Harvey also has 5.5 tackles-for-loss, two sacks and three pass break-ups.
Senior safety Tanner Hoekman has 48 tackles, good for sixth in the MIAA. Hoekman also has three tackles for loss, three interceptions, and three pass break-ups.
Pitt State offensive coordinator Dave Weimers says the team speed of the Tigers’ defense will test his unit.
“They’re very good, probably team speed wise, maybe the best we’ve seen here up to this point,” Wiemers said. “Definitely big concerns not only with their speed but they’ve got some guys up front that’ll give us a hard time.”
Despite the disappointing 38-17 loss to Northwest Missouri last week, Weimers said the Gorillas still have a chance at the post season, and that is the focus of coaches and players.
“We’ve got five more regular season games trying to win as many as we can,” Weimers said. “We have to go as hard as we can those five games and try to win the majority of them. When that happens, we’ll come up for air, look around, and see where things fall into place.”
Kickoff set for 1 p.m., Saturday’s game is Homecoming on the Pitt State campus. The Gorillas are 56-12-2 in their Homecoming games since 1949. Pittsburg State also holds a 12-2-1 all-time record against the Tigers in homecoming contests.