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Marceline Last Gasp a Near-Miss, Adrian Holds On 13-7 in Saturday State Quarterfinal

Its offense stagnated most of the game by the larger foe, MHS football season ends at 10-2 on state-quarterfinals last-play incompletion in AHS end zone Saturday.

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
With visiting Adrian trying to milk the clock while protecting a 13-7 lead in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s (Nov. 21, 2020) Missouri Class 1 state-playoffs quarterfinal game, Marceline High School Tigers junior lineman Nathan Cupp gets quick penetration to drop Blackhawks quarterback Colton Bass for a 4-yards loss. Although MHS’ defense prevented Adrian from getting another score that likely would have clinched a victory, a bid by the Tigers’ offense to pull out a last-seconds victory came up nine yards short as time expired, leaving Adrian a 13-7 winner and ending Marceline’s season with a 10-2 mark.

By PAUL STURM, LCL Sports Editor

MARCELINE — Unable to generate any success with their usually-reliable running game against a much-bigger, older Adrian Blackhawks squad, the Marceline Tigers nearly passed their way down the field and into Missouri high school football’s Class 1 state semifinals in the final 68 seconds of Saturday’s clash at MHS’ Chester Ray Stadium.

Trailing 13-7 since the Blackhawks drove about 75 yards and scored somewhat-controversially midway through the third quarter, Marceline took possession with no timeouts needing to go 78 yards in the final 68 seconds of the fourth quarter to tie and get a chance to win. It came within nine yards of getting it done.

With quarterback Jacob Stallo, one of many juniors and other underclassmen who dominated the 2020 Tigers lineup, connecting with either Wyatt Molloy or Sam Gillman five times on crossing or sideline routes that allowed the receiver to get out of bounds following most of them, Marceline took the ball to the Adrian 9 with under 15 seconds to go in regulation time.

Spiking the ball to stop the clock at the Blackhawks’ 9 with five seconds left, Marceline’s last try saw J. Stallo, just as he was being hit, lofting a pass toward the offensive left sideline of the end zone toward a well-covered Molloy. The target was able to get a hand on the throw in heavy traffic, but the ball bounced away, incomplete, leaving Adrian with a happy long trip home and an appearance in the state semifinals next weekend.

“Jacob did a nice job of getting the ball where it needed to be in order for those guys to be able to get out of bounds,” Mark Ross, MHS head coach, complimented the Tigers’ junior quarterback, who finished the year throwing for 1,520 yards and 20 touchdowns on 59% accuracy. “He made some incredible throws in that last drive.

“It kind of makes you wonder if we maybe should have (gone) to it a little sooner.”

Marceline, instead, begins looking toward a promising 2021 season with what will be a senior-heavy club coming off a 10-2 2020.

“We’ve got a lot of guys coming back,” affirmed Ross. “We’ve got to continue to build and get better.

“These guys could  be really ‘electric’ next year and we’re excited about that.”

Saturday’s state-quarterfinal contest – played under cloudy skies with a game-long north wind, but with relatively moderate temperatures and no precipitation – saw the much-bulkier and taller western Missouri visitors control the action with a rugged rush defense and nearly-run-exclusive offense. However, Marceline’s defense generally toughened in time to prevent Adrian from finishing drives, keeping the game close.

“It’s kind of the theme of the year,” the Tigers’ head coach said of the size disparity. “We’ve been undersized all year long. It’s something we’re used to.”

The “Black Rage” defense appeared to have done that on Adrian’s long drive to begin the second half, seemingly forcing a Blackhawks incompletion on a fourth-down throw from about the 10. However, an interference flag was thrown on the play despite MHS defensive back Sam Gillman having “inside” position (between quarterback and intended receiver) and turning to play the ball well before it arrived. As the taller receiver behind him leaped and reached over top of him, Gillman also tried to jump to get a hand on the off-line pass, resulting in some contact as the ball sailed past, incomplete.

The penalty yardage created a new, fourth-and-short opportunity, which Adrian converted for a first down. Two plays later, junior quarterback Colton Bass pushed across the goal line on a 1-yard sneak that severed a 7-7 knot. When the extra-point kick was well wide to the right, Marceline had an opening to victory it hoped it could subsequently exploit, but never got the chance.

While the home team and its fans might look on that play as ultimately being the difference in the game, had there been no flag and, thus, no points on that possession, the Blackhawks had at least two fourth-quarter possessions in which they advanced well into MHS territory. Had they been in those situations with the contest still 7-7, rather than playing to protect a lead, it’s conceivable that their play-calling and execution might have been more assertive and led to Adrian finishing one of them with a go-ahead score.

The visitors from about 40 miles south of Kansas City began the game’s scoring at the 4:28 mark of the first quarter after marching 73 yards in about 10 plays. Bass also capped that drive with a 2-yards sneak, which the Blackhawks followed with a successful kick.

The 7-0 margin seemed destined to remain in place at intermission until a big special-teams play just before halftime.

Punting from about its 30-yard line, Adrian booted a low kick which landed far in front of Molloy, but skittered right to him just inside the MHS 35 with no defenders yet nearby. Accelerating ahead to his right with an acre of empty field, Molloy easily crossed midfield and deep into Blackhawks territory before being pushed out of bounds at the 24 with 58 seconds to go in the second period.

Following a first-down incompletion on a throw to the right, J. Stallo looked downfield for one of four possible targets to be open on the next play. Seeing nothing he liked after a few seconds, he scrambled to his left while still looking to throw. Finally, seeing a pair of black-shirted teammates in the end zone on that left side, the Tigers quarterback jumped and threw, finding Molloy about five yards deep in the end zone for the score. Gillman booted the extra-point, tying the game at 7 with 43 ticks left on the opening-half clock.

Recalled Ross after the game, “That was a great job by the offensive line of keeping Jacob alive. He got a little bit of pressure there and moved in the pocket a little bit."

A leaping Marceline High School football Tigers quarterback Jacob Stallo throws a late-second-quarter pass (left) that (right) found teammate Wyatt Molloy (23) in the end zone with less than a minute left in the first half of MHS' Missouri Class 1 state-quarterfinals game against Adrian at Marceline Saturday (Nov. 21, 2020). The catch by Molloy, who had set up the scoring chance with a 43-yards punt return to the AHS 24, and the extra-point kick tied the game at 7-7, but it was MHS' only scoring play of the day. After scoring a go-ahead touchdown in the middle of the third quarter, Adrian held on to win, 13-7.

Until the last-gasp drive, Marceline never threatened to score during the final half, mostly because it rarely had the ball.

Held to an abnormally-low 40 rushing yards in the first half, the Tigers had a measly nine offensive snaps until the possession that began with 1:08 left. Those nine plays – four passes and five runs – produced six total yards with six of the snaps netting zero or negative yards, unofficially.

“Unfortunately, their offense went on some long drives and didn’t allow us to get the run game going there in the second half,” acknowledged the MHS head coach, who wrapped up his third season in charge with a composite 32-6 record.

By MHS statistics, Marceline finished with 35 ground yards on 19 attempts and 187 yards through the air on 15-of-28 throwing. While Adrian’s defense was a major factor in MHS’ inability to run the ball, the injury absence of starting center Aden North, who sustained a leg fracture in the previous contest, didn’t help.

“We had some difficulties up front. Really, it came down to missed assignments, not so much the physicality (of Adrian’s larger players),” Ross stated as his team headed off its home field one last time in a disjointed, memorable 2020.

The game had only one turnover, but it nearly became an ultra-critical one. On a short run by Bass near the Marceline goal line in the second quarter, the Tigers’ defense managed to separate him from the ball, which linebacker Mason Barnett recovered in the end zone for a touchback.

Defensively for MHS, Hunter Nelson led with 15 solo tackles and four assists. Barnett, back in action after missing the district final, had 12 total tackles – 10 unassisted – and the recovery. Both Nathan Cupp and Brayden King had six solo stops and an assist.While Adrian’s roster includes 12 seniors, including most of its offensive and defensive lines, Marceline’s had only three, none of which saw major playing time.