FULTON — Having a "short memory" is a term thrown around a lot, especially in football. A touchdown or change of possession can alter the trajectory or momentum of a game at a moment's notice, meaning the benefactor — or brunt — of said occurrence has to be ready to go with the new flow.
Seven games (and seven losses) into the 2020 season, short memories have had to be in long supply for the Fulton Hornets. And as the Hornets prepare for tonight's North Central Missouri Conference finale at Kirksville, perspective from play to play can't be lost.
Tonight' game can help establish that mindset for Fulton going into the final two regular-season games and start of district play. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
"It really doesn't matter what happened the play before, whether we scored a touchdown or gave up one, what matters is the next play," Hornets coach Trey Barrow said. "Don't get too high or low during the game, play each play with your best intensity, focus and effort."
For Fulton (0-7, 0-4 NCMC), no sequence exemplified the need to move on to the next play than the two that followed their opening-drive touchdown last week against the Marshall Owls. After polishing off a three-play scoring march, the Hornets gave up kickoff and interception returns for touchdowns on successive plays.
The respective returns put the Hornets down 13-6 before their defense even saw a snap. Those early scores were coupled with a few costly Fulton turnovers that afforded Marshall with short fields and short scoring drives. Add to that the Owls were able to slow the game down and rack up 318 rushing yards, and the hole continued to deepen for the Hornets.
Despite three touchdown passes from Fulton sophomore quarterback Courtland Simmons — including a pair to junior wide receiver Brynn Bynum — it was an uphill battle Fulton had to fight on its way to a 59-21 NCMC home loss to Marshall.
Barrow mentioned the regular practice time his team dedicates to those quick changes in momentum, but he's also seen his players get more accustomed to putting those processes into action on game night. And, at least from a mental execution standpoint, Barrow has seen marked improvement on his team's ability to show resilience.
"We have gotten better about not letting emotions play a role during the game," Barrow said. "We want to play with passion and intensity, but not let it affect our focus."
Kirksville (4-2, 1-3 NCMC) is in need of a bounce-back performance of its own. The Tigers fell at Mexico in a 22-21 conference loss last week, a game that remained a tie at 14 for the entire second half before the Bulldogs scored a touchdown and two-point conversion in overtime to close the game.
Kirksville — which has lost three of its last four after jumping out to a 3-0 start — enters tonight averaging 367 yards of total offense per game, including 208 yards rushing.
The Tigers' offense is guided by junior quarterback Jaden Ballinger, who is completing 59 percent of his passes (104-of-176) for 1,119 yards, nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Ballinger is also Kirksville's leading rushing, collecting 665 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging just more than 6 yards a carry.
Junior Landon Yardley is second behind Ballinger with 539 yards rushing and two scores, at just more than 5 yards per tote.
As defined as the Kirksville ground game is, however, it was senior wide receiver Noah Copeland that stood out to Barrow. Copeland has 35 catches for 370 yards and is averaging a first down per reception.
"He is a big receiver and catches just about everything," Barrow said.
Opposite Copeland is junior wide receiver Randon Baumgartner, who has 355 receiving yards on his own and is tied with Copeland for the team lead with three receiving touchdowns.
The Tigers present a formidable opponent, and one just as prepared to handle the ebbs and flows of the game as Fulton.
"Kirksville is a big, physical football team," Barrow said. "Coach (Kevin) Krietemeyer did a nice job getting them ready to go. They look to be in control of their emotions and play hard on film."