A win over Northwest Missouri State will get anybody's attention, but Nebraska-Kearney already had Fort Hays State's respect even before the Lopers upset the Bearcats last week.
It took everything Fort Hays had to scratch out a win against UNK last year, outlasting the Lopers 29-26 in two overtimes.
After going 5-6 last season, UNK is sitting at 5-2 and just notched its biggest win since joining the MIAA with last Saturday's 24-17 win over Northwest in Kearney. The Tigers are also 5-2 heading into Saturday's 2 p.m. matchup with the Lopers at Lewis Field Stadium.
"Last year, going there and getting into two overtimes should have been the start of having a lot of respect for this football team, because they were much improved last year," FHSU coach Chris Brown said. "They played everybody tough.
"They played very well against Northwest — got some turnovers, got some key stops, made some guys miss in the open field, as well. They really earned that win. They're a good football team."
The Lopers, who are in their third season under coach Josh Lynn, enter on a three-game win streak with wins over Lincoln, Northeastern State and previously-unbeaten Northwest.
UNK held the Bearcats to 259 yards of offense and the Lopers rushed for 228 yards.
"This game really is going to come down to who the most physical team is — who plays harder, who wants it more and who makes the least amount of mistakes," Brown said. "If we can do those things better than them, I think we come out with the win. If they do it better than us, then they're going to have the win. We just got to get our kids focused and locked in."
After pulling out a thrilling 42-41 win at Pittsburg State last week for its fifth straight win, Brown said the Tigers will need to push through mental and physical fatigue down the stretch of the season.
"You're going into Week 8, everybody's mentally and physically tired," Brown said. "You've just got to toughen up and get through it. Not only get through it, but not let it be a burden on us. Just toughen up and go to work every single day and not worry about how tired we are mentally or physically. It's part of the game. Everybody at this time of year is a little worn out, little beat up, little banged up, little bruised, little mentally exhausted. But that defines you as man — what are you going to do right here? Are you going to step up and be a man and take care of business? Or are you going to let this thing falter because you're a little tired?
"Hopefully we've got a lot of men on this team who want to step up and get things done. I think we have a good group of kids who are going to do that."
UNK's David Goodwin has rushed for 538 yards on the season, while quarterback T.J. Davis has 503 yards on the ground. Davis rushed for 100 yards against Northwest and was 10 of 19 through the air for 125 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Tigers receiver Harley Hazlett leads the MIAA in receptions (48) and touchdown catches (eight). FHSU running back Charles Tigner ranks third in the MIAA in rushing with 601 yards, while quarterback Chance Fuller is third in passing yards with 2,017 and second in touchdown passes with 22. Linebacker Drew Harvey is third in the conference in tackles with 62.
"I think this group is heading in the right direction," Brown said. "We started 0-2 and now they've won five straight. That says something about these young men and what they've accomplished these last five weeks. Now we just got to keep rolling."