Off to 2-0 start, CHS will welcome defending conference title-winner Maryville, keenest grid rival, Friday night (Sept. 13)
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Chillicothe HS football players and fans need no reminder of the strength of the Maryville Spoofhounds program over the past decade, a stretch marked by four state championships and multiple blowout victories over the Hornets.
However, fans and many of this year’s team members also can recall what it was like the last time the ’Hounds came to Bob Fairchild Field in Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II. Most of this year’s CHS starters were in uniform as sophomores – one (Isaih Kille) as a defensive starter – two years ago when the Hornets shut out a transitioning Maryville squad 24-0 in their 2017 week three clash. Maryville, of course, evened that score with a stunning playoffs victory in Chillicothe en route to a state runnerup finish.
Now, with veteran-laden Chillicothe off to a more-impressive start in 2019 than many might have anticipated and fresh from a 50-21 home rout of Kirksville last Friday, the Spoofhounds pay a visit for the opening game of this fall’s Midland Empire Conference competition.
For CHS head coach Tim Rulo, whose initial Hornets club - committing three turnovers - was decisively shut out at Maryville while by the veteran-spiced ’Hounds in week three last year, this contest is a valuable opportunity to be cherished as it helps set his team’s course for the remainder of the season.
“In my mind, this is going to finish up that first part of the season (preseason practices through week three game),” he shared with local media after Wednesday’s practice. This is going to be that test at the end of the first part of the season.
“… In my mind, it’s a great team to test you. You’re going to see exactly what you need to work on. They’re going to be exposing your weaknesses.”
Maryville (1-1) enters after pulling away from host Harrisonville to win 56-20 last week in the wake of their neutral-field 23-14 opening loss to strong Jefferson City: Blair Oaks.
It will bring multiple very familiar, accomplished names on its roster – 2018 Missouri Football Coaches Association Class 3 All-State first-team offensive lineman Jackson Bram, defensive lineman Tallon Noland, wide receiver Tate Oglesby, linebacker Tyler McGary, all of whom contribute significantly – as needed – on the opposite side of the ball as starters or oft-used reserves.
While some players who did key damage to the Hornets in years past, like backs Eli Dowis and Tyler Houchin, are gone through graduation, that All-State core – supplemented by youthful veterans like junior, second-year starting quarterback Ben Walker, wingback Connor Weiss, and end/safety Deon Metezier – has the ’Hounds rightly regarded as the Midland Empire Conference’s team to beat again and likely a top contender for another state title with its “downshift” to Class 2 this season.
That classification switch for the northwest Missouri power means it’s not in Chillicothe’s playoffs district at season’s end, a situation Rulo feels works to his club’s potential advantage in Friday’s 7 p.m. contest.
“We only have to play them once this year, … so we can leave it all on the table,” he says of being free to try any play in the Hornets’ offensive or defensive playbooks.
While tonight’s game is Chillicothe’s only first-hand chance to put itself in the heart of the MEC title chase, should it stun the favored Spoofhounds, whether CHS wins or loses and plays well or poorly will not define its season, its coach asserts.
“Maryville’s not the culmination of our season,” he commented after the Kirksville victory. “After that, we’ve still got at least seven more games and, Lord willing, many more after that.
“We need to just keep improving. I was grateful we took a step (forward against Kirksville). From week one to week two, we took a great step. Now, I want to see us continue to take steps.”
He doesn’t want his squad to view Maryville as invincible.
“Maryville’s going to be a great test of that, because they’re a strong team, a strong opponent that does really good things in all phases, but we also do great things,” he stated a week ago. “Now, it’s just time to play great Hornets football.”
Rulo says he’s sensed a good attitude from his players in practice this week, in terms of assimilating the successes they’ve had to date while also understanding additional improvement is mandatory, if they want to have a stellar year.
“I’ve been very happy with how our guys responded. … They’re excited, but they haven’t lost the ability to continue working hard in practice,” he tells the C-T.
Strategically, coach Matt Webb’s Maryville contingent figures to utilize its familiar approach – a sturdy, aggressive defense focused first on taking away the Chillicothe running game, while offensively leaning first on a diversified ground attack, but able to strike down the field through the air by winning 1-on-1 battles in the secondary.
Chillicothe’s approach likely will be what it normally is against the Spoofhounds – try to “shorten” the game with a ball-control offense that doesn’t give MHS a short field with turnovers or mistakes. On defense, avoiding surrendering “chunk” plays – especially ones that put up six points – looms as a CHS key.
Overall, Rulo restates, the aim for his club simply is to “keep getting better.
“Our goal is not just to win week three. We want to make sure to go and take care of business (in) week four, week five, six, seven – all the way up into districts and beyond. There are just so many opportunities we have.”
He continues, “Excited for the growth (through two games). I’m glad we got better. Now, we want to just keep doing it.”
Personnel-wise, Chillicothe – having caught the good “break” with end/safety Colten Sewell’s game one injury not being as serious as it could have been and even having allowed him to play last week – is expected to be at virtually-full strength.