Now the Owls are in contention for a share of the NCMC championship, which last occurred in 2006. Of course, the road to the title is a rugged one, requiring a home win today against fourth-ranked Hannibal -- the top-seeded team in Class 4, District 6.
"They're a real good football team, but we're a pretty good football team, too," remarked MHS head coach Jon Stockman. "We have no reason to be intimidated."
If not intimidated, the Owls will certainly be respectful. The Pirates (7-0, 5-0 NCMC) have won the last four meetings, Marshall's current senior class having seen three losses by a combined 123-12 margin.
The biggest challenge for the Owls (5-2, 3-1) is being able to go toe-to-toe with a Hannibal squad which typically plays strong.
"We've got to come off the football hard and be physical on both sides of the line," Stockman said. "Play hard and play fast. Of we can match that physicality, it should be a heck of a football game."
The Pirates are big up front, with seniors Jake Borgmeyer (265 pounds) and Zach Riley (260) leading the way -- along with impressive 225-pound freshman Dylan Powell, younger brother of junior quarterback Dalton Powell.
"They've got a great offensive line, a great defensive line and speed in the backfield as well as the secondary," Stockman said.
Senior running back Caleb Bieniek is drawing interest from colleges, but junior Mitch Nichols is getting the plurality of touches -- leading the team with 797 yards and 11 touchdowns on 97 carries. Bieniek and Powell have 822 rushing yards and 16 TDs between them.
"They're a talented football team," Stockman noted. "We have to play well from the get-go to have a shot in the fourth quarter."
Like the Owls, Hannibal runs the split-back veer option on offense and a four-man front on defense. Marshall has run for 173.7 yards per game, led by senior Marc Plummer's 858 yards on 145 attempts, and scored 20 touchdowns -- compared to the Pirates' 229.2 yards and 34 scores.
"Any time we want to run the football first and move the chains," Stockman said. "Hopefully, we can do the same against this week as well."
Dalton has completed 29 of 54 pass attempts for 436 yards, while senior Alex Maupin is 35 of 75 for 479 yards for the Birds -- both tossing five touchdowns. The biggest differences are in turnover margin, Hannibal at plus-four and the Owls at minus-two, and penalties: 37 for the visitors and 63 for the home team.
"It's going to who makes fewer mistakes and who's better up front," Stockman declared.
Marshall is banking on the support of a crowd which has increased in both size and enthusiasm this season, this being a Black-Out Friday in which all spectators are encouraged to don black. Stockman would like to see his club's mood match the color scheme: dark and forbidding.
"I think our kids will come out and play hard," he said.