Mixed results for Owls during Jamboree

Tuesday, August 27, 2019
Sophomore Coy Smith, who missed last season due to injury, got the bulk of the reps at quarterback for the Owls during the California Jamboree. (Chris Allen/Democrat-News)

CALIFORNIA -- Marshall football fans are hoping that Friday's pre-season jamboree at California was not a precursor to the upcoming campaign.

"We're very young, very inexperienced -- not a lot of varsity action for a lot of our guys," MHS head coach Adam Huse assessed. "A lot of those guys made sophomore mistakes, inexperience mistakes and things like that."

Huse views these as "fixable," his mantra the last two years. However, after ending a two-year winless streak with the season-opening victory at Chillicothe and two more wins during 2018, expectations have been raised -- hopes that received little affirmation as the Owls gave up two touchdowns to Father Tolton Catholic of Columbia and another pair to California.

Marshall did score against the Pintos, on the second-to-last play of the night on a breakaway by a novice third-team running back.

Neither of the Owls' opponents had much problem moving the ball. The Trailblazers covered the 40-yard distance in seven plays on their first series and five plays on the second, starting with junior Gabe Pfeneger's 16-yard pass to senior Connor Fogue.

Marshall's defensive difficulties were exacerbated because its leader, all-NCMC senior Ethan Stickels, was held out of the event by the coaching staff.

"I'm not going to make any excuses, but when you play without your heart and soul -- your middle linebacker -- well, a lot of the tackle-to-tackle stuff Ethan cleans up," Huse explained. "He makes us look a lot better because he's a great football player."

In fact, the Owls seldom had a complete unit on the field, shuffling players on an off like -- in Huse's words -- the proverbial "Chinese fire drill." On offense, record-setting junior quarterback Ben Haug played only four snaps, with two incomplete passes, against Tolton.

"We limited the playbook. We ran four plays, and we have a multitude of plays," Huse said. "We have a whole lot more that we can show."

Haug didn't look sharp in his limited player, but sophomore Coy Smith -- who missed last season with an arm injury -- got the offense moving a little with an 8-yard toss to sophomore Esvin Umwech and 15-yard throw to sophomore Rowdy Souder.

Those plays provided the Owls with their only first downs until the third team took the field and added two more on sophomore Keeron Ward's 5-yard run and a pair of passes from sophomore Tytus Bellamy to sophomore Logan Deal for a combined 22 yards on the final two plays.

Against California, Haug hooked up with sophomore Axavier Reed -- one of Marshall's two returning wideouts, senior Jace Lance also given the night off -- for six yards before being pulled after two more snaps. Sophomore Zach Martinez nine yards on two carries before Smith converted a third down with a 7-yard pass to junior Caden Kraft.

The Owls stalled out on that drive, but on the first snap of the next series -- their second-to-last of the evening -- sophomore Jalen Watts broke through the middle, cut to the left and beat the defense to the end zone from 40 yards out.

A raw novice, Watts resembles two-time all-state tailback Matt Jacobs in build and speed at the same stage of his career -- before he was a starter. Jacobs worked himself into an elite feature back who signed with Truman State; Watts may have similar untapped potential, but it's too early to tell if he can match Jacob's level of dedication. Few do.

The Pintos only needed only play to answer with a 40-yard dash by senior Logan Parrish, who left broken arm tackles in his wake.

"We've got to go back to work on our tackling," Huse admitted. "It's hard early in the season when they don't let you touch anybody for five days. That's something we need to emphasize."

California picked up two first downs before getting another touchdown on a 2-yard plunge by junior Bryant Davis after overcoming third down and long with Davis' 24-yard throw to sophomore Calen Kruger. The defensive highlight for Marshall was a fumble forced by sophomore Nick Ross at the end of a 24-yard run by sophomore Tyler Patterson which was called back on a holding penalty.

All told, the Owls' performance wasn't an encouraging sign, but then jamboree results often provide false reads. Huse's first season began with a nice showing at the Oak Grove Jamboree, after which Marshall didn't win a game. Considering especially the patchwork rotation used by Hume, admittedly no fan of jamboree, Friday's season opener at home against Chillicothe will provide a truer glimpse of where the Owls are at.

"Some teams prepare for jamborees; we don't," Huse said. The Hornets "are what we're getting ready for. We're going to be better next week, especially offense execution-wise."

Contact Chris Allen at callen@marshallnews.com

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