Hornets, 0-2 this year and losers their last five times visiting Maryville, will face Maryville Spoofhounds in Northwest Missouri State U. stadium tonight at 7
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
Whether with strong teams or struggling, the Chillicothe High School football Hornets have not fared at all well at Maryville High School’s “Hound Pound” stadium the past 10 years, losing by wide margins on all but one occasion.
Even two years ago, with a squad meshing emerging young talent and experience and eventually headed to a 9-2 record, Chillicothe laid a huge, 61-14 egg on the MHS field.
With this year’s mostly-young, inexperienced Hornets not only winless through two games, but also scoreless – the first time since 1934 they have been shut out in their first two contests in a season – and Maryville with multiple returning All-State players from its 2018 Class 3 state-championship squad still in tow, tonight’s 2018 Midland Empire Conference opener for the teams bears all the marks of another blowout waiting to happen.
Given that, maybe it’s a positive omen that CHS’ visit to the Nodaway County community will find them hitting the field not on what’s been, of late, a “field of nightmares,” but in Northwest Missouri State University’s Bearcat Stadium. Things certainly cannot go worse, short of the Hornets sustaining significant injuries.
Having hosted and routed Harrisonville on a very rainy day last Friday and with additional precipitation of consequence having fallen this week and perhaps continuing today, Maryville school officials on Wednesday pulled the trigger on shifting tonight’s game site from their damaged grass field to the artificial turf of the college field as a way to avoid further damaging the ’Hounds’ normal home.
“It’s going to be a great opportunity to go play great football,” Tim Rulo, CHS first-year head coach, says of the unexpected opportunity for his players to compete in the stadium that’s been home to multiple NCAA college football Division II national champions in the past 20 years.
“…This is a great, plumb-line game (facing a high-quality opponent),” he shares. “… You’re going to easily see what you need to work on. They’re so fundamentally sound, they’re going to expose your weaknesses, which is fine, because I’d rather learn them now than in week 12.”
While Chillicothe still has a goose egg in the points-scored column for 2018, Maryville, even with its two would-be returning starting offensive linemen ((left guard Jackson Bram and right tackle Ben Holtman)) battling injury, has racked up 71 while losing to Jefferson City: Blair Oaks and blanking Harrisonville.
While MHS head coach Matt Webb has some linemen back from last year’s fast-finishing state champs, the most notable returnees are at skill positions.
Seniors Eli Dowis, who did not play when Chillicothe shut out the ’Hounds in last year’s week three meeting, and Tyler Houchin are the team’s primary ballcarriers. Each ran for a couple of scores against Harrisonville and the highly-athletic Dowis has great versatility, being a weapon as a pass catcher or thrower in addition to running it.
On top of those two, junior Tate Oglesby – an All-State defensive back in 2018 – is a quick, fast receiver who can get open or go up and catch a well-covered ball.
Triggering the MHS attack this fall is a new, sophomore quarterback, Ben Walker, younger brother of last year’s starter, Will Walker.
Like his big brother, the new signalcaller is not a factor of significance as a ballcarrier, but with Houchin at fullback and Dowis and sophomore Connor Weiss at halfback, that isn’t needed.
What the younger Walker does best is throw the ball when called upon. In the opener against Blair Oaks, a rematch from last year’s state semifinals, the new quarterback threw for over 150 yards and nearly passed the team to a late comeback win.
Given that both Marshall and Kirksville had underclassman quarterbacks enjoy extensive passing success against them (31 completions in 52 attempts for 450 yards), B. Walker likely is anxious for his coaches to give him a chance to throw quite a bit tonight.
Defensively, Maryville – after being surprised by a different offensive style by Blair Oaks from what it used against the Spoofhounds a year ago – suffocated long-time western Missouri power Harrisonville last week.
MHS defenders set an immediate tone by getting a stop deep in their own territory after an early Maryville turnover and never gave Harrisonville a sniff of success thereafter.
Houchin at linebacker and the shutdown tandem of Oglesby and Dowis (when needed) in the secondary also pace the ’Hounds’ defense.
Of his first chance to coach against the northwest Missouri powerhouse, Rulo says it’s more than talent that carries Maryville to the heights each year.
“The biggest thing, from what I’ve seen, is they play fundamentally-sound football,” he comments. “They’re not turning it over. They tackle well. They don’t give up too many big plays.
“They do all the little things necessary to be successful.”
Doing the little things at least better will be one of the benchmarks Chillicothe’s coaching staff will look for from the growing Hornets tonight, regardless of the outcome or final margin.
On offense, that will mean improved execution – or attempted execution – of assignments in the new “flexbone” offense and then holding onto the football, especially in the second half. CHS has fumbled the ball away twice in the third quarter of both losses to date and last week threw three interceptions in the game to boot.
“We’ve got to take care of the football,” Rulo underscores. “Against a good team, you can’t give them short fields. You’ve got to make them earn every yard.”
Of the steps taken to address the occasionally-lax ball-security technique, the coach disclosed in an interview with local reporters Wednesday, “We did a new drill this week to focus on that.”
Personnel-wise, Chillicothe is expected to have everyone it had available last week at Kirksville in uniform and set to go tonight, too.
In a positive development, it now is hoped junior Isaih Kille might be able to return to action in a few weeks after suffering knee ligament damage while being tackled on a second-quarter carry against Marshall. It initially was feared the would-be starting running back/defensive lineman was finished for the season, but got a more-favorable report after extensive medical examination, both Kille and Rulo have confirmed to the C-T.
While naturally disappointed in the Hornets’ results to date, their new coach isn’t despairing on the possibilities for this season.
“I thought, overall, we played better (at Kirksville) than we did in the Marshall game,” he states.
“There were some glimpses of things we liked on all three ‘sides’ of the ball (offense, defense, special teams). Again, it’s just a matter of that ability to put them together.
“… I want to see (solid execution) for all four quarters,” he challenges. “… We’ve been playing pretty good first halves.”