Missouri S&T football head coach Tyler Fenwick is going back to St. Joseph.
The Miners' performance will determine if it's a warm or bitter homecoming for him.
The Miners travel to St. Joseph Saturday for a non-conference matchup against the nationally-ranked Missouri Western Griffons. Kickoff at Spratt Stadium is set for 6 p.m.
It's the second straight meeting for S&T against a NCAA Division II nationally-ranked opponent.
Last Thursday the Miners dropped a 40-34 double-overtime heartbreaker to No. 20 Chadron State in Rolla. Missouri Western, ranked No. 6 in this week's national poll, opened last Thursday by coming from behind and beating Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA) rival Central Missouri 26-23.
Before taking the Miner reigns in his first head coaching stint last March Fenwick served as the Griffons' offensive coordinator the previous six seasons. Last year Fenwick helped lead the Griffons into the NCAA Division II quarterfinals, finish with a 12-2 record and win the first outright MIAA title in program history. MWSU was 53-18 during the time Fenwick was on staff, making the postseason all six years.
"Yes, I'm going back to where I had been for six years," Fenwick said. "But in the big picture it's about the kids – it's their game. They get to line up against a top-10 team. It's not fair to them to make it about me."
The good news for S&T - Fenwick knows the Missouri Western personnel extremely well. The bad news for S&T - he knows that personnel is REALLY good.
"This will probably be the fastest team we'll face all year," Fenwick said. "And it's probably the most physical team we'll play. But I also told our kids they can only put 11 guys on the field. Like every other game, it will come down to execution."
Saturday will be the first meeting between S&T and Western since Nov. 6, 2004 - the last game S&T played as a member of the MIAA. The Griffons won that game 49-14 and have won the last seven meetings of the series. The last Miner win over the Griffons was a 17-0 triumph at Rolla in 1997. The last time S&T won in St. Joseph is 1987.
Last week Western drove 62 yards with no timeouts in the final two minutes to pull out the win when quarterback Travis Partridge, son of Griffon head coach Jerry Partridge, threw a five-yard TD pass to All-America tight end Jordan with :14 left.
Travis Partridge completed 14-of-30 passes for 198 yards and three TDs and rushed for 57 yards against Central Missouri.
Tailback Raphael Spencer led Western with 91 rushing yards. The Griffons finished with 347 yards of total offense while allowing 362.
Page 2 of 2 - "They have two running backs - Spencer and (Dominic) Thomas - who are very good," Fenwick said. "Of their receivers (Tyron) Crockom and (Derek) Libby are slot kids who will make you miss. And Jordan is a All-American tight end who is very athletic; they like to go to him in the red-zone. Stephon Weaver is a big, strong receiver who is a very good route runner and can stretch the field. The quarterback is a seasoned veteran and could run that offense if they allowed him to. They've got talent all over the place.
"Defensively it starts up front for them; their lineman are very good - big, strong and active. Their ends are young and the linebackers are really good. (MLB) Yomi Alli is an unbelievable linebacker and very smart. And Mike Jordan is a corner I have a lot of respect for."
Despite a lot of holes to fill on offense coming into the season the Miners displayed the ability to move the football against Chadron State, racking up 504 yards of total offense, as first-year starting sophomore QB Reed Brown threw for 365 yards and two TDs.
However, the Miner defense gave up 500 yards to the high-powered Chadron State offense.
Chadron State returned an interception 79 yards in the second overtime period to tag S&T with the bitter setback.
"I felt good about our offense," Fenwick said. "I really like Reed Brown at quarterback, he's very instinctful. And our receivers did a great job of being on the same page with him, and the protection was really good. For the first game in that system the kids executed really well.
"(Defensively) we really worked a lot on fundamental football this week. We've got to be in good position and we've got to tackle, because they've got guys who can make you miss. Their quarterback is big, at 6-4, 247 pounds and can run. If we do get a chance to get to him, we've got to hang on and get him down."
The Miner offense continues to be extremely thin at running back, as sophomore Zenel Hudson, who rushed for 96 yards, is the lone player still standing of the three running backs Fenwick was counting on.
The top returning rusher from 2012, sophomore Scott Hendricks, is out indefinitely with a knee injury and senior Anthony Moore is still sidelined with a concussion suffered last week. S&T has moved freshman Chris Kennard from receiver to running back to help shore up the position.