Marshall, which has experienced quarterback, big-play receiving threat back, set to host CHS in 2019 season opener
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — A glance at the projected starting lineups for Friday’s 2019-opening high school football game between Chillicothe’s Hornets and host Marshall Owls (7 p.m., Cecil Naylor Field, Marshall HS) creates a jolting realization.
While second-year CHS head coach Tim Rulo, who inherited a roster effectively devoid of meaningful varsity-level experience a year ago and eventually guided it to a 4-6 record, will have only one non-senior in his starting offensive and defensive units, Adam Huse of Marshall – in his third season guiding the once-proud Owls – will use underclassmen as starters at 17 of the 22 positions.
Given that Marshall, with the significantly-more-seasoned club, halted a 21-games winless streak with a 16-0 victory in Chillicothe 12 months ago, but still went on to win less games (three) than the Hornets by season’s end, the temptation is to look at the reversed disparity in experience and chalk up win No. 1 for CHS even before the pre-game coin flip.
It might be that Rulo’s club will get off to a winning start this evening – possibly even by a clear-cut margin, but that is by no means guaranteed, unlike the Hornets' truncated last visit to Naylor Field.
Two years ago, with another seniors-laden squad – but that one with many more proven producers – proved to be only half-good in Huse's debut as MHS head coach, but that wasn't the Hornets' players' fault.
A strong finish to the first half ballooned prohibitive-favorite Chillicothe's lead from 16-0 to 30-0 at intermission. During the between-halves break, rain arrived, then turned into a torrent with lightning which necessitated a long delay.
When MHS officials, CHS coaches, and game officials agreed there was little reason to try to wait out the storm that night, facilities and staff conflicts for Marshall the next day, a blowout on the scoreboard, and – with another game to get ready for the following week – no reason for Chillicothe to support delaying resumption until the next Monday, the game was terminated after only one half of play.
While Marshall again enters this season with numerous young and unproven players, it now has two years in Huse's system, a talented junior quarterback in returning starter Ben Haug (2,157 passing yards, 16 touchdowns), an athletic, talented, big-play threat at wide receiver in senior Jace Lance (6’, 175), and multiple newcomers who could give the Hornets fits if Haug finds them in open space. Lance had 30 catches for 579 yards and six touchdowns last year, although he then had extra room to operate with foes keying on then-senior Jaylen Varner (56 receptions, 969 yards), wno now is a walk-on defensive back at Mizzou.
To aid their trigger man, the Owls have their starting offensive tackles back from last year and also get back a 2017 starter who went down with a season-ending injury just prior to last season.
The anticipation is, as long as the game’s outcome is in the balance or if Marshall is behind, Haug will fill the sky with pigskins, perhaps throwing on as much as 70 percent of the MHS snaps.
A year ago, with what was a scoreless game until late in the third period and then the Owls trying to preserve a 2-scores lead in the last eight minutes, Huse played it cozy. Haug threw only 22 times – completing 13 for 189 yards – and Marshall ran 35 times, netting only 33 yards.
Given not only last year’s rushing numbers against CHS, but also the Owls – according to Marshall Daily News sports editor Chris Allen’s reporting – stunningly having gained only 523 rushing yards the past two seasons combined, when in doubt, the Owls figure to air it out.
Defensively, the MHS 3-4 defense revolves around senior inside linebacker Ethan Stickels (5’10”, 190). He earned all-North Central Missouri Conference honors as a junior after being in on 99 tackles.
“It’s been his defense the last two years and it will be this year,” Huse told the Marshall editor. “He’s a leader.”
Up front, the Owls’ line has decent size (205-225 pounds) with two seniors involved. Junior Caden Kraft is back as an outside linebacker, but the other two ’backers are sophomores. The secondary is completely overhauled with all underclassmen who reportedly have speed and athleticism, but lack experience.
One of Marshall’s soccer players from the spring has been convinced to join the football team as the placekicker. The Owls’ backup quarterback is their punter, so some chicanery is possible in apparent punting situations.
After completing offseason and preseason work in anticipation of 2019 play with last week’s “jamboree” scrimmages, Rulo expressed satisfaction and confidence that, with a year’s experience, his players and team have advanced sufficiently toward where he wanted for the start of 2019.
“You always wish you did things a little better, here and there,” he admitted.
Health-wise, barring an injury yesterday or onset of an illness, the CHS coach expects all players counted on to play a starting or regularly-used substitute’s role to be available.