With CHS leading at Marshall 30-0, lightning prompts delay at halftime, then cancellation of last half after an hour's wait. Shaffer, Josh Kille each score two TDs
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
MARSHALL, Mo. — In a head coaching career of right at 30 years, Chillicothe native Phil Willard has experienced nearly everything. On Friday night, though, he went through something brand new to him – a half-game.
Persistent thunderstorm-connected lightning, a one-sided halftime score, and a confluence of factors which effectively negated the possibility of resuming game action either tomorrow or Monday led to the mutual decision between Marshall and Chillicothe school and team representatives to terminate the varsity football 2017 season for both teams after only two periods. The decision left the visiting Hornets 30-0 victors over the Owls.
A steadily-dominating, but not overly-flashy, offensive showing by Chillicothe in the first 24 minutes produced more scores (five) than offensive possessions (four), while the CHS defense held Marshall to negative yardage on the ground and only about three productive offensive snaps.
The Hornets, controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, received two touchdowns each by senior Brett Shaffer – one on special teams – and Josh Kille and a 39-yards field goal by senior Jack Willard.
Chillicothe will have its home opener at Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II next Friday, Aug. 25, with the Kirksville Tigers in town for the annual Hornets Football Alumni Reunion activities. Game time will be 7 p.m.
Kirksville began its season Friday with a respectable 34-19 home loss to highly-regarded Jefferson City: Blair Oaks.
The singular highlight of Friday's abbreviated CHS-MHS contest came on the first play of the second quarter with Chillicothe ahead 10-0 on Shaffer’s 16-yards run that capped a 9-plays, 68-yards march on the season’s first possession, and Willard’s field goal.
With the Hornets defense having dropped by Owls for consecutive 5-yards losses on second and third downs just before time expired in the opening frame, the home club faced a fourth-and-20 from its 10 after the teams switched ends of the field.
Jairon Jasper got off a nice kick from near his goal line, one which angled toward the Chillicothe sideline and landed at around the MHS 45. The ball easily could have bounced out of bounds a few yards away or sideways or backward, but instead pinwheeled at about shoulder height directly to Shaffer on the 50-yard line.
The glue-handed Hornet made a clean catch of the ball as it rotated end over end and took a couple of steps straight upfield, where he had two or three teammates beginning to block the first MHS coverage men arriving on the scene. However, as the Owls players angled their pursuit toward the CHS (east) sideline, the state-medaling track-and-field hurdler planted his left foot and turned to run to the opposite side of the field, creating a ton of territory for the trailing Marshall defenders to try to cover.
With his speed, Shaffer outraced most of the Owls to their own side of the field, angling upfield toward the goal line even as he did. With teammates positioning themselves in a way to either block or redirect potential pursuers, Shaffer went untouched to inside the 20-yard-line before having to cut inside a last MHS defender, hurdling past him as he fell while trying to stop and avoid a block. The last few yards found only teammates around him as the CHS returner completed a 50-yards touchdown return which made it – with J. Willard’s point-after kick, 17-0 11 seconds into quarter No. 2.
Chillicothe added two more TDs inside the final three minutes of the half to swell its margin to 30 points.
Following Marshall’s best play of the game – a 31-yards swing-pass gain to Jace Lance on the first offensive play of the possession after Shaffer’s return, the CHS defense quickly clamped down again.
Forcing the Owls into a fourth-and-6 from the CHS 45, Chillicothe answered aggressively when Marshall first-year head coach Adam Huse – his team already down three scores – gambled and went for the first-down conversion, rather than punting. A blind-side blitz by safety Dylan Munson prevented MHS quarterback John Haug from having time to try to pick out a target among the five potential receivers the Owls had out on pass routes. While Munson let the ducking Haug slip through his grip, fellow senior Kayde Burton was only two steps behind after beating his would-be blocker and cleaned up for his first sack of 2017 before Haug could straighten up after shedding the blitzer.
That gave Chillicothe the ball in Owls territory a second time, this time at the 46.
Methodically over the course of 11 snaps, the Hornets advanced the ball toward the MHS end zone, twice converting on fourth-and-short before, on first-and-goal from the 3, J. Kille plunted in off left guard behind lead back Burton’s block. J. Kille’s bruising 14-yards run on which he shook off three would-be tacklers who hit him almost simultaneously about eight yards past the line of scrimmage was the spark for the march.
Up 24-0 2:35 before halftime and kicking into a bit of a breeze, although nothing too substantial, J. Willard, who had boomed his first two kickoffs of the night for touchbacks, was instructed by his coach/father to test a more-strategic type of “pooch” or popup kick in which the ball is not only sent high into the air, but toward a portion of the gridiron where the opponent doesn’t have anyone in too-close proximity.
J. Willard not only perfectly aimed the ball directionally toward a portion of the field near the CHS sideline where the nearest Owl was expecting to only be looking to block, but controlled the distance so the nearest intended returner could not get up to it in time. Not only did the ball land a good five yards or more away from the nearest Owl, but the bounce it took was away from that man and toward the sideline where senior back Konner Sewell, having sprinted unimpeded during the kick’s flight, had the ball come right toward him. As he dropped to the ground to prevent any chance of the ball going out of bounds, he secured possession without any MHS player even able to try to fight for the ball. The Hornets had the ball yet again at the MHS 30 with still about 21/2 minutes left before halftime.
The offense knew what to do with the chance, even after committing a holding penalty which backed the ball to the 41.
On the next play, J. Willard comfortably set up in a good pocket and spotted Shaffer, from his left flank position, having beaten his defender on a post pattern well downfield. The senior quarterback’s throw was on the button and Shaffer latched onto it just inside the 15 before being dropped by the recovering Owl at the 10.
Still with one timeout available, if needed, the Hornets used J. Willard’s fourth completion of the half in seven throws to gain seven yards to the 3 on senior tight end Trace Staton’s second catch.
On the third-and-goal play from there, J. Kille again bulled in, this time behind the blocks of guard Erek Brose and tackle Eric Davis on the left side, improving the Hornets’ lead to 30-0 35 seconds ahead of intermission. J. Willard’s extra-point kick was mishit and fluttered into the end zone a couple of yards shy of reaching the goal posts.
With the teams having just emerged from their locker rooms and beginning to loosen up for the last half, a lightning flash registered close enough on measurement devices for MHS officials to alert the game officials, who immediately directed both squads to return to their locker rooms for at least a 30-minutes delay.
A few minutes later, Marshall school officials deemed the approaching clouds to be capable of generating a significant weather event and ordered all persons in the grandstands – fans, media, off-field game officials, etc. – to vacate the structure and either go into the school gym or to their vehicles as a safety precaution.
Not quite an hour later, a span which produced a brief spell or two of noteworthy rain, but – most problematically – continued lightning, representatives of both schools and teams met to decide whether to continue the delay or call a halt to the game at least for the night, if not permanently.
With Marshall scheduled to host an all-day girls’ softball tournament at the field directly adjacent to the football stadium Saturday – creating a shortage of available parking on the lot which serves both, as well as probably a shortage of available oversight personnel to cover both venues, the host school did not want to carry the game over to Saturday. That dovetailed with Chillicothe’s interests because, the C-T learned, a number of Hornets players had obligations to be involved in activities at the Missouri State Fair on Saturday, as well.
Throw in the fact that the officiating crew overseeing Friday’s play was scheduled to work a game at Sedalia Saturday and could not return to Marshall for a resumption and the circumstance of Monday’s total solar eclipse, which is expected to create very high traffic volume along 2-lane U.S. Highway 65 between Marshall and Chillicothe as both towns are in the swath of the celestial rarity, effectively removing it as an optional date to resume the game, and there were only two real options available: Keep waiting out the weather, no matter how long it took, in order to complete a game whose ultimate outcome likely already had been decided, or cancel the final half and credit Chillicothe with the victory.
With an indication that it might be a couple of hours more or longer before the storms/lightning had moved sufficiently far enough away to recommence play, the logical option was taken and the game called as complete after two quarters.
Statistically, in two quarters, Chillicothe unofficially outgained Marshall 171-29 in total yardage. The Hornets had just over 100 on the ground and another 67 in the air, while the Owls gained 49 air yards as Haug completed all six short passes he attempted, but lost 20 total yards on six rushes (including two quarterback sacks). Five of the six MHS rushes lost yards and the sixth – with Haug taking a knee after accepting a “pistol” snap on the last play before halftime – officially is scored as no gain even though the kneeldown actually occurred about seven yards behind the line of scrimmage.
Shaffer and Staton each had two catches – Shaffer for 38 total yards and Staton, whose 22-yards catch-and-run was critical on the opening drive – converting a third-and-7, totaled 29.
Running the ball, J. Kille had 53 yards, but it took him 15 carries to get that after he averaged around seven yards a carry in 2016 when he ran for about 1,150 yards. Shaffer netted 31 yards on only five rushes.
Chillicothe had 10 first downs to one for the Owls, who are hoping to avoid a second-straight winless season. Neither club committed a turnover and each was flagged three times.