Chillicothe (Mo.) HS Football Hornets Drop 2020 Opener to Marshall, 21-7

Paul Sturm
2020 Chillicothe High School football Hornets junior defenders Cam Fleener, right, and Brock Ward, left, combine to stop Marshall quarterback Ben Haug for a 1-yard gain on a third-and-2 play in the first quarter of the teams' 2020 season opener at Chillicothe's Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II Friday, Aug. 28. Chillicothe out-played Marshall significantly in the first half, but managed only a 7-0 lead, which Marshall erased with touchdowns on its first three possessions of the second half, allowing the Owls to prevail, 21-7.

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — The highly-inexperienced 2020 Chillicothe High School football Hornets started strong and gave a solid overall account of themselves in their season opener Friday (Aug. 28), but, in the end, the more-veteran Marshall Owls had the faster finishing kick.

Down 7-0 at halftime after Gage Leamer’s 1-yard quarterback sneak and Ben Pithan’s conversion kick put the host Hornets in front with 3:56 left in the second period, Marshall scored each of the first three times it had the football after intermission to post a 21-7 triumph at Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II.

“We saw some good things, but, in the end, just not enough to get over the hump and get the ‘W,’” assessed Tim Rulo, CHS head coach, in a post-game interview with the C-T.

Chillicothe, which played without would-be starting outside linebacker/backup slotback Brock Miller, due to a recent illness preventing him from having the needed number of practices, Rulo disclosed, will have to seek its first victory of the new season on the road next, visiting Kirksville next Friday.

Kirksville defeated Macon 35-25 on the road in its season opener.

“We saw growth from our scrimmage against Trenton (the previous Friday) to now and now we need to improve even more and see even more growth as we move into next week against Kirksville,” he observed.

In Chillicothe Friday, Marshall marched 65 yards in 11 plays in 4:18 after accepting the second-half kickoff to tie the score on Caden Kraft’s 3-yards run on fourth-and-goal before a tide-turning sequence put Chillicothe behind the 8-ball.

Following MHS’ opening score, the host Hornets, who had dominated the first-half time of possession and unofficially more than doubled the Owls’ yardage, used Bryce Dominique’s 32-yards kickoff return to set up a drive which left them first and 10 at the MHS 14.
After three running plays netted only five yards, Pithan lined up for a field goal attempt of 26 yards, but never got a chance to swing his leg. The snap was bobbled and Marshall took possession at its 17, still tied.

Perhaps the game’s key play came four snaps later when, after used three runs to advance the ball 31 yards, rangy Owls senior quarterback Ben Haug – a third-year starter – arced a perfectly-thrown deep pass down the right sideline to Malik Evans for a 43-yards gain to the Chillicothe 5.

Three plays later, Marlon Linares cracked in from three yards out and, with his second of three successful point-after kicks, Marshall had its first lead of 2020 at 14-7 with 57 ticks left on the third-quarter clock.

When the ensuing kickoff hopped over the CHS returner poised to grab it, the now-trailing Hornets were forced to start at their own 6-yard line.

After converting for a first down with a third-and-6 pass completion to Max Wagers from Gage Leamer, a would-be 20-yards run around left end on the next snap was wiped out by an illegal-motion flag. Instead of being outside their 40 with a fresh set of downs and building momentum, the Hornets were back inside their own 20.

That led to a punt attempt from the 22, but, with the punter positioned 17 yards behind the line of scrimmage, the snap landed a couple of yards short of him and, while recovered, Marshall swarmed in for a stop at the MHS 4. With Chillicothe mistakenly getting only 10 defenders on the field following the change of possession, Linares bolted in easily off the left side on the following play and, with his PAT kick partially deflected, but still skimming just over the crossbar, it was a 2-scores game, 21-7 in favor of the Owls with 9:06 remaining.

“Some of that inexperience showed,” Rulo said of some of the mental shortfalls. “… We need to get them more prepared.”

Chillicothe’s offense, which had 10 new starters from a year ago, continued to move the ball, even in catch-up mode, but could not find the end zone again. Its shortest series of the hot, muggy night was seven plays – that was the one which ended with the unsuccessful punt try. Its last-gasp possession, beginning from its 36 with 1:50 left, got the ball to the MHS 11 before losing possession on downs with 19 seconds to play.

“Definitely not the end result that you want,” Rulo rued. “Your heart just breaks for the seniors (who, with their parents, were recognized prior to the game, in case subsequent home games are not able to take place) and those guys because of how hard they worked and everything they put into the offseason and during the summer.”

“… Now we need to get better,” he summarized.

Although they moved the ball steadily in mostly-small bites nearly all night, the Hornets’ only points came thanks to an unorthodox decision by Marshall head coach Adam Huse.

In a 0-0 game early in the second period, the Owls faced a fourth-and-3 situation at their own 32. Surprisingly trying to convert, a short rollout pass by Haug was broken up by two CHS defenders, giving the hosts their only "short field" of the game.

While it took them nine snaps, they converted the gift. On the last of nine runs that consumed 4-1/2 minutes, Leamer sneaked over from a yard out for the initial points of 2020. When Pithan cleanly split the uprights from Braden Constant’s hold, Chillicothe owned a 7-0 lead, which it preserved into halftime.

The Hornets began the new campaign with an impressive 13-plays drive after returning the opening kickoff to the Marshall 38, but they didn’t “finish.”

A well-executed third-and-long pass to M. Wagers gained 15 yards and put the ball on the MHS end of Bob Fairchild Field. Fullback Damarcus Kelow ran for 10 two snaps later and subsequently picked up nine on a third-and-7 call to push the ball inside the Owls’ 10. However, after an unsportsmanlike conduct infraction made it first-and-goal from the 4, a fumble on an apparent handoff fake was recovered at the 7 by Owl senior outside linebacker Kraft.

Later in the opening quarter, CHS advanced the ball from its 25 to Marshall’s 17 in 12 plays, including an 11-yards run by sophomore fullback Cayden Potter, but Potter was stopped for only two yards on fourth-and-5 to let the Owls regain possession at their 15.

“I needed to call a better play on that second drive that stalled out inside the ‘red zone,’” the Chillicothe head coach stated. “That’s on me.”

Statistically, after unofficially having a 139-65 advantage in total yards and 33-18 margin in offensive plays at halftime, Chillicothe gained only 10 net yards on the ground in the second half (including 26 lost yards on kick attempts), but did pass for 85 in desperation. The Hornets finished with a narrowed 234-213 advantage in total offense, but had 70 snaps to only 40 for the Owls.

Individually, Leamer passed for exactly 100 yards, connecting on six of 18 throws. Senior slotback Tucker Wagers caught three balls for a game-high 61 yards. Kelow’s 73 yards on 16 rushes led all ballcarriers. CHS' top tacklers were juniors Braxten Johnson at free safety and Brock Ward at linebacker, each with five solos and two assists.

For Marshall, Haug hit his first three air attempts and four of his last five, going seven for 10 for 121 yards overall. Linares had 55 rushing yards on 13 carries.

Not counting the two ill-fated kicking-game snaps, Chillicothe lost the turnovers battle 2-0, both times losing fumbles in MHS territory. It also lost 41 yards on eight plays, a big chunk of that on the kicking game misfires, while getting only two stops behind the line aside from one late, too-high MHS shotgun snap that cost it 16 yards.

“They played their hearts out,” Rulo lauded his players' effort. “They’re tired, exhausted. It’s hot.

“But I’m so proud of the guys. It’s an important life lesson, isn’t it? You can give your best and sometimes the result isn’t what you want. That doesn’t – somehow, though – invalidate all that hard work and make you less of a person because it doesn’t work out. Those are the life lessons we want to teach these guys.”

Taking the snap from junior center Anderson De Jesus, junior quarterback Gage Leamer gets set to sneak in from a yard out for the 2020 Chillicothe (Mo.) HS football Hornets' first touchdown and points of the season in the second quarter of their 21-7 home loss to Marshall Friday, Aug. 28. The TD and conversion kick gave CHS a 7-0 halftime lead.