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Tigers' Burton posts solid game on defensive line




EMPORIA -- Two years ago, Jacob Crossman was a Fort Hays State University senior defensive lineman. He had played significantly throughout his career and earned all-MIAA honorable mention honors as junior. However, as a senior, Crossman played with higher ferocity each Saturday, knowing it was his last season.

He finished with 19 tackles for loss and nine sacks and earned All-American honors.

This fall, senior defensive lineman Aaron Burton has taken a similar approach. Burton has played in all 22 games in the last two years, including starting each contest last year.

However, Burton had 63 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and just 1.5 sacks combined in those seasons. He recorded two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble. Last year, he had no tackles for loss in the team's final six contests.

On Thursday, Burton had possibly the best game of his career in a season-opening 41-18 road loss to Emporia State University at Welch Stadium.

Burton collected five tackles, a sack and forced fumble. He picked up one of the Tigers' three sacks.

"It's nothing new up front, they are either going to block you or they are not. It's my last year. I don't have anything to lose, so just go out and do what I got to do," Burton said.

"You are not guaranteed 11 games. You are guaranteed one game, and after every game, that's just counting down to how many games you've got left," he added.

Senior Kyle Perry, Burton's longtime teammate and a returning all-MIAA honorable mention selection, finished with seven tackles to lead the Tiger defensive linemen. Junior defensive end Jeremy Jones, a converted fullback, paced the Tigers with 1.5 sacks.

Special teams produces mixed results

The Tiger special teams encapsulated the night for FHSU: some positives, but plenty of negatives, too. True freshman Drew O'Brien had taken over field goal/extra point duties last week because of a hip injury to senior Tyler Kimbrough.

O'Brien went 2 of 3 on field goals with makes from 47 and 34 yards and a miss from 47. Last year, Kimbrough had one field goal longer than 47 yards when he made one from 49.

FHSU also had two extra points blocked. Last year, the Tigers were 31 of 31 on extra points.

"We have got to shore those things up," second-year coach Chris Brown said. "When it went bad today, it went bad. Everything went downhill. Just got to find a way to get back and get going in the right direction."

Fort Hays allowed a muffed punt and allowed a 50-yard punt return as well.

"It's just coverage," Brown said. "We have got to get back in our lanes, and we were there to make the play, and we just didn't make the play."

One bright spot was kickoff returns. FHSU has struggled in that area since C.J. Lovett graduated following the 2009 season. The last two seasons, FHSU averaged 19.2 and 20.0 yards per kickoff.

The Tigers averaged 29.3 yards per kickoff return, including a 47-yard return from senior Keke Paul and a 45-yarder from redshirt freshman Shaquille Cooper.

Offensive improvement

FHSU played both quarterbacks, senior Anthony Sheppard and junior Tarean Austin, but Brown wanted to see improvement in one area no matter who was under center: moving the chains.

Last year, Fort Hays averaged 17.2 first downs per game and converted 34 percent of third down chances. On Thursday, FHSU had 13 first downs and was 5 of 15 (33 percent) on third downs. Four of those first downs came on the game's final drive when FHSU scored with five seconds left.

"Our offense has got to get first downs," Brown said. "They didn't get hardly any first downs at all. They didn't convert on third down. We have got to do a better job of that and keep our defense off the field."

Sport Date Opponent Score
2/18 SW Baptist L 66-53
12/1 Oklahoma - Panhandle L 66-60 (OT)