"I'm excited," declared first-year head coach Jon Stockman over debuting in the NCMC opener against Mexico. "I hope those stands are full."
Marshall gave its boosters reason for optimism by breaking a string of four straight losses in season premieres against Chillicothe, but three first-half turnovers in the rain at St. Joseph last week were converted into touchdowns by Lafayette during a 33-14 loss.
Are the Owls over their fumble-it is?
"Boy, I sure hope so," Stockman confessed. "I hope those kids realize what turnovers will do to you."
The Bulldogs (0-2) have had an even rockier start under their new coach, Ty Harrison, an assistant last year. With only four returning starters on offense and three on defense, Mexico had to face the same talented Irish squad which beat Marshall, falling 52-16 to begin the campaign, and then lost 40-0 at California.
Stockman considers the 'Dogs are dangerous opponent, which they certainly were a year ago when they whipped Marshall, 34-8, behind tailback Shi'a Miller's 119 rushing yards and three touchdowns and the 180 all-purpose yards rung up by quarterback Austin Reed -- both of whom are gone.
Still, senior signal-caller Matt Ridgway threw a 25-yard TD pass and ran in from 22 yards out for both of Mexico's scores against Lafayette.
"They throw the ball pretty well," Stockman said. "We have to take care of our defensive assignments."
Obviously, Mexico -- like the Owls (1-1) -- has some work to do on defense. The Bulldogs won't see anything especially fancy from Marshall's veer-option.
"We're going to look at what they give us offensively," Stockman said. "Find the bubble where we think we can attack and go from there."
The difficulties the Owls encountered last week weren't in attitude or effort, but Stockman stressed that avoiding turnover and penalties -- as well as improved tackling -- are going to be vital.
"The kids played extremely hard," he said. "We had some very good plays, but we have to cut the stupid mistakes down."
This is the first time Marshall has gone up against a fellow member of Class 4, District 6, so the outcome could have an impact on seeding for the district tournament which begins in Week 10. Currently, the Owls are No. 6, while Mexico is seeded eighth.
This early in the season, though, it's also a chance for Marshall to continue establishing its identity.
"I think we know who we are," Stockman declared. "It comes down to execution and cutting the mistakes down."