The 10th-ranked Emporia State football team knows what it's up against this weekend when Fort Hays State comes to Welch Stadium.
The Tigers are in third place in the MIAA at 6-2, but even bigger than that is the fact that they have beaten ESU in their previous two meetings. They were the only team not named Northwest Missouri State to beat the Hornets a season ago.
"We try to keep things the same," ESU head coach Garin Higgins said. "We don't try to do anything different about how we go out to practice, or how we talk to our players. They know each and every week the thought process is be 1-0, understanding that if you're not ready to play on a Saturday you're going to get beat by whoever it might be."
On paper, the two teams line up about as evenly as can be. Offensively, the two teams stack up as the fourth and sixth highest-scoring teams in the conference. Defensively, they're the second and fourth stingiest in the MIAA. The Tigers' secondary has 10 interceptions on the season, good for second in the conference ... behind Emporia State.
Quarterback Jacob Mezera has been playing extremely well, surpassing the 300-yard mark in each of the Tigers' previous three games. His counterpart, sophomore Braxton Marstall has continued to develop his reputation as a dual-threat, passing for more than 250 yards per contest, but rushing for multiple touchdowns in each of the Hornets' last three games.
But whatever the route, FHSU's defense won't likely give Emporia State much in the way of breathing room.
"(We're) just trying to be consistent, doing our stuff, getting better at what we do," Marstall said. "They're a good defense, we've just got to take advantage of what they give us."
The Tigers' biggest weapon comes in the form of 5-10, 195-pound Shaquille Cooper. The junior running back has tallied almost 900 yards of total offense though eight games, and has caused havoc against each of his opponents this season.
"We're going to have to be able to top No. 2," Higgins said of Cooper. "He's a very explosive player, an electric player."
Higgins also noted Mezera's improvements, and the need for the Hornet defense to clamp down and minimize any damage.
"One of the things that impresses me the most is how their quarterback has played since the beginning of the season," he said. "Ever since week three or week four, he's played like a different quarterback. You can tell he's playing with a lot of confidence right now and that he's comfortable with what he's doing."
For ESU, it will do its best to make Hays not feel comfortable on Jones Field as 21 seniors will also be recognized prior to their final regular season home game.
"Just keep to the process," said linebacker Gabe Cleveland. "Take it one day at a time, one practice at a time. We've got to make the most of our opportunities."
Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at Welch Stadium.