HAYS, Kansas -

They say it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. But for the Fort Hays State Football team, the start of the season could be critical. The Tigers ended last season as one of the hottest teams in the MIAA, winning six of their last seven.  Keeping that momentum and winning the season opener against Central Oklahoma could be big as far as setting the tone for 2014.

“It’s very important to us, just getting these kids to understand why they put in this much time,” said head coach Chris Brown. “There’s a reason you put in this much work through the summer and through camp and through spring ball and it’s to get to this point and perform at a high level.”

The players agree.

“That’s what we’re waiting on, getting another shot,” said quarterback Treveon Albert. “We ended last season on a good little roll there. It’s time to pick it back up and keep it going.”

The Tigers have not won a season opener since beating Emporia State in the opener in 2011. FHSU is 1-6 all-time against UCO, but that one win came during the last meeting in 2011.

“It’s game one,” said Brown. “You never know what you are going to get from them offensively. We have a pretty good idea. And you never know what you are going to get from them defensively.”

Fort Hays State starts the season with three straight games against teams picked behind them in the preseason football polls. With teams like Pittsburgh State, Washburn and defending national champs Northwest Missouri waiting later on in the year, it makes a strong start even more critical.

“Every week you’re going to have to come ready to play,” said linebacker Justin McPhail. “Everyone in the MIAA is solid. Every single week you’re going to need to be ready to play.”

The Tigers and Bronchos will open the season Thursday night at Lewis Field Stadium with kickoff scheduled for 7pm.