Kirksville hands Owls 38-0 NCMC loss

Monday, September 11, 2017
Senior Mason Thurman closes in on a Kirksville ballcarrier. (Chris Allen/Democrat-News)

"Disappointing" was the word Marshall head football coach Adam Huse described Friday's 38-0 NCMC home loss to Kirksville. "Undisciplined and bad coaching."

What made this loss more difficult to digest than the previous 14 in a row was that the Owls were playing an opponent that was also off to a rough start and against which it was historically competitive, if not dominant. Even though Marshall made them work for the first two scores, it was unable to stop the Tigers' first two series and as the game wore on -- and fatigue set in -- gave up big plays.

Perhaps more discouraging was an offense which again posted negative rushing yardage, mainly due to ineffective pass blocking. With freshman Ben Haug making his first start at quarterback, some protection was needed. Instead, the Owls' line employed the "look-out block:" make a first swipe at a defender and then yell, 'Look out, Ben' as the pressure bore down -- resulting in five sacks for 46 yards in losses.

"Ben did great, everything we asked of him. He commanded the huddle and when he made a mistake, he owned up to it," Huse said. "Last year he was playing eighth-grade football. I don't care where you're at, from eighth grade to varsity the speed of the game is so much different."

Kirksville banged the middle on its opening drive, but didn't have far to go after throwing the Owls back on defense. Although no gain was longer than eight yards, the Tigers covered 46 yards on 10 plays to score on senior John Bohon's 1-yard quarterback sneak.

Marshall appeared ready to answer, Haug quickly unloading a 35-yard bomb which junior Jaylen Varner snagged over tight coverage at the 20-yard line. Two plays later, the Owls had first down and goal at the 7, but back-to-back sacks and an incompletion -- on what appeared to be one of several uncalled pass interference penalties -- left them trying for a field goal. Senior Romario Monroy had plenty of distance on the 40-yard attempt, but was wide to the left.

Kirksville marched 76 yards on 15 plays, seemingly stalled in its tracks after three snaps. For the first time this season, a Marshall opponent lined up to punt, but instead faked with junior Colton Gillespie converting with a 9-yard pass to senior Nolan Dempsey.

Late in the drive, Gillespie threw a halfback option screen pass back to Bohon, who picked up 17 yards to set up his 9-yard touchdown toss to senior Braden Smith.

A strip-sack and fumble recovery by junior Tanner Lain gave the Tigers possession at the Marshall 29-yard line, with senior Blake Lewis running the ball in on the next snap.

"We've got to find a way to protect him," Huse said. "We couldn't run any of our spread passing concepts because we couldn't protect him well enough and we don't do a good enough job with our run blocking to take the pressure off."

The Owls got a lift late in the half when sophomore Jace Lance intercepted a pass deep in his own end, but there was too little time left to mount a threat.

Down 18-0 at halftime, Marshall could rightly feel as though the game was not yet lost. However, for the third straight week, it surrendered a touchdown on the second-half kickoff -- with Lewis dashing up the middle and breaking left for 81 yards, the seventh score given up by coverage squads this season.

The Owls crossed midfield only once the rest of the game, following two Lewis TD runs, of 28 and 38 yards. Haug connected with Schulte for 38 yards to the Kirksville 23, but senior Nathan Skinner's sack cost them 14 yards on third down and five yards to go and the fourth-down pass fell incomplete.

Lewis finished with 233 all-purpose yards for the Tigers (1-3, 1-1 NCMC).

Haug completed 12 of 24 passes for 122 yards -- with Varner getting five receptions -- and sophomore Ethan Stickels led Marshall (0-4, 0-2) with 13 tackles, nine solo.

The Owls return to the road Friday at Fulton, which is off to a 1-3 start.

"We have to find a way to be consistent," Huse admitted. "There were some good things tonight, there really were, but we follow that up with three bad things. We've got to figure out how we can fix it."

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