The Owls held No. 4 Hannibal to an 8-8 first-half draw, but three unanswered touchdowns after the break sent them to a 28-8 loss.
"I thought our kids played extremely hard," remarked MHS head coach Jon Stockman. "They were awesome in the first half."
However, with the offense unable to sustain drives and the secondary giving up big pass plays during the second half, Marshall was eventually worn down by the Pirates -- who clinched the NCMC title.
Today, the Owls, who have lost two of their last three road games, hit the trail to Boonville to take on the defending league champions.
Although the Pirates (4-4, 3-2 NCMC) got off to a rough start, they reeled off four straight wins before dropping a 24-6 contest to Moberly last week -- a contest in which they had five players sidelined for at least a half due to suspensions.
"They started out 0-3, but California, Higginsville and Hannibal are pretty tough to start out against," Stockman noted. The combined record of teams which have beaten Boonville is 30-2; for the Owls, it's 21-3.
Like last week, Marshall is facing an opponent which does many of the same things on both sides of the ball, with a veer-option offense and four-man front on defense.
"That ought to make it a heck of a game," Stockman said. "The team that makes the fewest mistakes is going to win it."
The Owls will be facing one of the league's top running backs in senior Kelsey Callaway, who has rushed for 736 yards and 12 touchdowns in seven games.
"Be fundamentally sound, assignment sound and tackle better than we have been -- those are the keys," Stockman said. "No matter what coverage we're in, we have to do our jobs first."
Marshall (5-3, 3-2) was held to its lowest rushing total of the season last week, the 99 yards less than half its average of 229.5 yards per game. Since the Pirates boast a strong linebacker corps led by senior Jalen Poindexter with 14.8 tackles per game, getting the ground game going is a concern.
"We've got to be better up front as far as getting on linebackers and staying with them," Stockman admitted. "They want to get penetration and get into the backfield."
There is a slim possibility that a bad loss by the Owls would move them down to sixth place in the Class 4, District 6 seedings -- making for a first-round tournament tilt at No. 10 Helias next week instead of a rematch at Moberly -- but possibly a more compelling motivation is that they have yet to beat Boonville since it joined the NCMC in 2008.
"I told the seniors that let's end that streak and start a new one," Stockman said, reminding them of from whence they began. "Just like in July, be hungry."