Marshall's football Owls regrouping again after 2-8 season

Chillicothe's 2021-opening foe Friday lost star QB, other key players from ’20

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

Debuting for a 14th-consecutive time against an old rival fallen on hard football times the past decade, the Chillicothe High School Hornets will square off with the Marshall Owls at 7 p.m. Friday night commence a 2021 season expected to produce plenty of scoreboard success.

After a great deal of uncertainty as to the site, veteran CHS assistant coach Chad Smith will have his inaugural outing as Hornets head coach at the normal location – MHS’ Cecil Naylor Field.

According to various sources, the grass field sustained some type of damage this summer, requiring resodding, and the rooting of the sod had not progressed as quickly as hoped. As recently as Monday, there was a possibility the game would be shifted to Missouri Valley College's stadium in south-central Marshall, but Smith told the C-T just before press deadline Monday that he'd been informed that the game would be at the high school's field.

Once game time arrives, two squads which combined for five triumphs last fall will duel to see which one gets its new season started on the right foot.

Last year in Chillicothe, a very-inexperienced Hornets squad out-gained Marshall by a bit, but two turnovers, another costly mistake, and the CHS offense’s inability to complete drives – the Hornets had at least three scoreless possessions end in the so-called “red zone” – opened the way for three second-half Marshall touchdowns and a 21-7 MHS victory.

The Owls would win only once more the rest of the season in Adam Huse’s fourth season at the helm, extending their string of general futility to eight in a row with no more than three victories. Marshall has only seven total triumphs in the past five years.

With the graduation of 3-years starting quarterback and program career passing-yardage leader Ben Haug, two of their three best defensive players, and the running backs who scored the three TDs in last year’s game against the Hornets, the Owls figure to have a challenge on their hands again this fall.

Their best player figures to be middle linebacker Zach Martinez, who might have to shoulder a heavier-than-preferred offensive load as a running back, especially early on.

Both the offensive and defensive lines figure to have multiple returning starters from last year’s clash, so, with a new quarterback to break in, the anticipation will be that Marshall – which participated in a “jamboree” scrimmage with Fulton and host California last Friday – will try to move the ball on the ground first and foremost.

The visiting Chillicotheans, with far more experience at the so-called “skill” positions and a promising, if overhauled, offensive line, anticipate being able to move the ball extensively again. If they can get the ball into the end zone, instead of near it, they’ll put pressure on Marshall’s attack to keep pace. With the Hornets’ defense also with a significant veteran tinge, that figures to be difficult.

A year ago, two Chillicothe special-teams mistakes in quick succession late in the third quarter after Marshall had used a long drive to go in front 14-7 handed the Owls the ball at the CHS 4 in the first minute of the fourth period. Marshall cashed in on the next play for a 2-scores lead to effectively seal the Hornets’ fate.

A factor in MHS’ coming on to score three second-half touchdowns was the collarbone fracture sustained in the first half by Chillicothe’s most-experienced defensive player and anticipated catalyst, then-junior linebacker Brock Ward. He’d miss virtually the entire rest of the season, but indicated he was fully healthy and ready to be that impact player in 2021 with his showing in last Friday’s “jamboree” scrimmages at Moberly.

Two years ago at Marshall, in a situation relatively similar to this year’s – in terms of the teams’ experience levels, Chillicothe prevailed by a 20-7 count, even though the Hornets had the game’s only three turnovers. Just as in last year’s game, the home team scored first, but the visitors put up the next three touchdowns to prevail.