Marshall (Mo.) Owls did all of the scoring with two 1-yard runs by quarterback Ben Haug and a safety – all in the second half – to end a 21-games losing streak 16-0 Friday, Aug. 24
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Asked by an interviewer, two nights before he led Chillicothe High School’s football Hornets into regular-season play for the first time, whether – in general – he perceived that a football team’s offense or defense normally would be more capable of playing well in an opening outing, Tim Rulo affirmed the general perception that – all things being equal – the simpler, reactive nature of defending lends itself to quicker effectiveness more than the plotting and coordinated execution of offense.
His first game as CHS head coach underscored his perception, even if it didn’t yield the desired result on the scoreboard.
Six years to the night after spoiling Chillicothe’s first-ever game at its Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II with a victory, the Marshall Owls similarly soiled the first game of Rulo’s tenure as Hornets pigskin boss Friday.
Simultaneously ending more than two years of their own frustration, the visiting Owls snapped a 21-games losing streak with a 16-0 shutout of the inexperienced Hornets at Litton Stadium II.
“Not the outcome we wanted, but a lot to build on,” Rulo, initially fighting his emotions a bit, shared shortly after the game.
“…I thought the kids played hard and played well.”
Each club’s defense generally was more effective. While Marshall’s success is obvious, given the shutout, Chillicothe’s held the Owls to only two touchdowns, allowed only 33 rushing yards (including yardage lost on its eight quarterback sacks), registered 12 tackles for loss that totalled 66 yards, and twice made stalwart goalline stands that kept victory possible.
Offensively, however, after running the ball for 128 yards in the first half, the ground-oriented Hornets got only five more on 15 rushes following intermission and produced only 48 yards of total offense in the second half.
In addition, Chillicothe fumbled the ball away three times – the last two of which Marshall effectively converted into the game’s first touchdown and, a few minutes later, a safety that gave MHS a 2-scores lead.
“I thought our defense played really well,” Rulo saluted coordinator Chad Smith’s unit, which got three sacks and four tackles for loss (TFL) from junior end Isaac Washburn and two sacke and three TFLs from senior nose guard Matt Callen. “They were being tested by some really good athletes.
“…Offensively, we just weren’t able to respond in-kind.”
Chillicothe will visit Kirksville this Friday at 7 p.m. Kirksville also opened 2018 with a loss Friday, 34-27 at Macon.
All of the scoring on a humid night came after intermission.
After the Hornets generated a takeaway with Colten Sewell’s interception of a deep MHS pass on the first series of the second half, they could not take advantage of the good field position at their own 41.
Instead, on a third-and-short play, a pitchout on a run play missed connections and the Owls recovered the loose ball at the Chillicothe 48.
The sudden turnabout juiced the Marshall offense.
Behind consecutive on-target passes from sophomore quarterback Ben Haug gained 14 and 31 yards, the Owls quickly put the ball at the CHS 1. From there, Haug banged in up the middle from “pistol” depth with 8:37 left in the third quarter. Romario Monroy added the conversion kick for a 7-0 Owls lead.
Perhaps rattled by what its previous mistake wrought, the Chillicothe offense miscued again four plays into the next series, fumbling the ball away at its 31.
The defense bailed them out this time in dramatic fashion, but the mistake ultimately proved consequential.
Following a touchdown-saving tackle of Haug by Sewell after a 9-yards scramble left the ball just inside the Chillicothe 1, crashing end Washburn forced a running back to cough up the ball on the next play. Lavery Jones recovered at the 5 and CHS still was within seven points.
However, the nervous offense – with no returning starters – committed a procedure penalty that led, a couple of plays later, to a sack of quarterback Jaden Winder by blitzing linebacker Kayl Case deep in the end zone. The safety made it 9-0, Owls, with 4:25 to go in the third period.
Following an exchange of punts, Marshall got the ball back a yard shy of midfield and, with three more Haug completions pivotal, pushed the ball in on a 12-plays drive. A roughing-the-kicker penalty on a failed 30-yards field goal try gave MHS a second chance it took advantage of with 8:27 remaining.
The first half saw both teams have one major scoring threat it could not cash in.
The Hornets’ most-effective offensive possession was undermined by field position and time.
After one of their defense’s stoppages just short of Marshall scoring – junior strong safety Colten Sewell broke up a fourth-and-goal pass in the end zone three snaps after a key shared sack by junior linebacker Dawson Wheeler and freshman end Damarco Kelow – gave CHS the ball at its own 2 with 4:36 remaining in the half.
Sparked by a 12-yards catch-and-run by end Brad Hayen on third-and-3 from the Hornets’ 9 and spiced by senior fullback Cade Koehly’s 22-yards burst up the middle to the MHS 19, Chillicothe drove the ball most of the length of the field. However, after getting a first-and-goal from the Marshall 5 on Kam Ward’s 10-yards run with just under a half-minute remaining in the half, Chillicothe – out of timeouts – followed a spike with a running play that gained nothing.
According to Rulo, a hurried, verbal play call for the third-down snap as the clock ticked under 10 seconds was misunderstood. In a situation when another spike to stop the clock and allow for a fourth-down call to be made in calmer fashion seemed likely, another running play was quickly attempted and lost yardage as time ran out.
“You wish you had one more timeout down there,” reflected Rulo, ruefully. “Then, you (verbally) call a play in (for the last play) and a kid doesn’t hear it.”
Statistically, in addition to the big sacks total CHS’ defense produced, the Hornets’ top offensive numbers from unofficial calculations had Koehly with 68 yards on 12 carries and Hayen with five catches for 39 yards.
Hayen’s catches total was the first time a Hornet has had at least five receptions in a game since that very first game at Litton Stadium II precisely six years earlier. Zach Alperin hauled in five for 67 yards and a score that night.
The last time a Hornet had more in a game was Oct. 14, 2011, when Austin Hatfield had six for 32 yards in a 56-13 loss at Maryville.
Marshall’s Haug completed 12 of 20 throws for 182 yards, unofficially, accounting for most of the Owls’ 222 total yards. He found six different receivers.
Not helping Chillicothe’s chances in its opener was the injury loss, for the night and perhaps longer, of junior starting running back and defensive lineman Isaih Kille. He sustained a leg injury on a second-period carry.
His departure resulted in freshman Kelow, already slated to see some action as a backup, taking Kille’s spot on defense the rest of the night. He made two solo tackles – one for loss – and assisted on the aforementioned second-period sack of Haug.