When the Missouri Western Griffons take to Lewis Field Stadium tonight in Hays, Kansas, they won’t be the only ones out for revenge.
The Griffons (0-1) will face the No. 25 Fort Hays State Tigers at 7 p.m. looking to rebound from a fourth-quarter comeback loss to Northwest last week. The Tigers (0-1) not only hope to right their season after an opening loss at Central Missouri Missouri, but they look to avenge a 23-13 loss at Spratt Stadium last season as the No. 5-ranked team.
“We beat them last year. They’re coming in with a lot of hatred for us now,” said Missouri Western redshirt freshman wide receiver Devon Holmes. “They lost to us last year, and now we’re coming in off 0-1 and are trying to beat them really bad.
“This is a huge game for us. Being 1-1 the first two games is really big for us.”
Western gave then-No. 6 Northwest a scare last week, coming from down 28-7 to take a 35-31 lead in the fourth quarter.
In the end, 28 points off two interceptions, a fumble and turnover on downs costed Missouri Western a home upset to kick off a new slate.
Though heads could be down, the Griffons refocused over the weekend and enter a hostile environment with a positive mindset.
“This team is resilient. It was an upsetting loss, but we’ve gotta keep pushing,” junior linebacker Colton Larceval said. “There’s always another game, another day to get better. Little mistakes is what killed us. We’re gonna perfect our craft and keep getting better.”
What the Griffons did do right is show a new and improved offense to the MIAA. Senior quarterback Wyatt Steigerwald went 14 of 28 for 270 yards and three touchdowns. Holmes, Shamar Griffith and Damen Wheeler Jr., each totaled more than 70 yards receiving, and Markel Smith ran for 97 yards on 13 carries.
“We are scary right now, offensive-wise. Last year, teams were loading the box,” Holmes said. “This year, they can’t do that because we have the threat of throwing the ball. It’s really exciting.”
The trip to Hays is a first as a head coach for Matt Williamson, who is in his third year with the Griffons. The magic came in turnovers a season ago, picking off three passes in the red zone and returning a blocked punt for a touchdown in St. Joseph.
The Tigers are coming off their worst defense performance since 2015 in a 34-30 loss at Central Missouri. The Mules gained 516 yards, despite giving up less than 50 in the opening quarter. The Tigers were also forced to settle for three field goals in the loss.
Western forced just one turnover last week on a tipped pass interception, but the Griffons know the production must increase against one of the top passing attacks in the NCAA.
“Turnovers and control the ball. We’ve gotta possess the ball and take the ball away a little more on defense,” Williamson said. “Our defense has to be very secure, and we have to make sure we don’t lose the ball at all.”
The Tigers saw Charles Tigner and Te’Corey Tutson rush 15 times last week for 118 yards combined. Chance Fuller completed 27 of 42 passes for 333 yards and two scores, with Layne Bieberle leading the way with four catches for 99 yards.
“They’re quick, they have some good guys, some good receivers and tight end. Their running back has been there a few years, but nothing we haven’t seen before,” Larceval said. “Just some guys who put their shirt on just like we do. If you cut them, they bleed just like us. We’ve just got keep getting better and prepare to win.”
If the Griffons start slow again, they are confident in their ability to hang with a top-25 team and ultimately finish the contest, especially since they proved themselves just a season ago against this very opponent.
“Whenever we’re down 14-0 before the second quarter, everybody was like, ‘Stay up, stay up.’ I feel like last year’s team would’ve gave up. I feel like going into the second game, Fort Hays is scared of us right now because they know what we’re capable of,” Holmes said.