After 0-10, Owls experience revival
Since beating Smith-Cotton to win the Class 4, District 14 championship in 2006, the Marshall football program has only had one winning season.
That came in 2012, and it produced two memorable moments that proved redemptive for a senior class that entered the campaign with 13 straight losses.
First, the back story. After four straight 3-7 showings, the Owls suffered the first winless in their history during the second year of Jay Eilers' term as head coach. Even during the happy times of the MSHSAA Class 3 Baseball Tournament, the first ever for Marshall, some of the underclassmen were considering skipping football as seniors to avoid another fiasco.
That changed with the hiring of former MHS assistant and then-Bueker Middle School coach Jon Stockman to replace Eilers, who resigned in April. Some 72 players turned out for preseason practice in August, a big upgrade for a roster that has played with as few as 19 players the previous fall.
Included in that group was senior quarterback Alex Maupin, whose blazing speed and solid passing made him a dual threat. That was apparent in the Aug. 24 season opener, when Maupin ran for 142 yards and four touchdowns for a come-from-behind 26-25 victory at Chillicothe, spoiling the christening of the new Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium.
That was a sign of something special. Junior Tyler Clampitt threw for 232 yards and three TDs for the Hornets, who took a 26-20 lead with fewer than nine minutes remaining. However, Maupin sprinted for 63 yards for the go-ahead score with 4:38 remaining in the game and an interception by senior Tyler Cott with a minute to go to secure the victory.
That kicked off a 4-1 start for Marshall, the lone loss coming the following week with a 33-12 loss to a talented Lafayette club on a rain-soaked field at St. Joseph. A three-game NCMC win streak ended when the Owls fumbled and stumbled their way to a 41-12 loss at Moberly, in which they committed five turnovers and 12 penalties.
They beat a struggling team the following week and closed the regular season with losses to Hannibal (28-8) and Boonville (28-6) to finish in the middle of the league pack at 3-3. Marshall was seeded fifth for the Class 4, District 6 Tournament, the new post-season eight-team bracket format MSHSAA instituted to replace the four-team district round-robin in which the top two teams qualified for the playoffs.
The play an 11th game, akin to the previous regional round, the Owls had to return to Moberly -- scene of their worst performance of the season. This meeting didn't begin any better than the encounter a month earlier, with the Spartans using only four plays to reach the Marshall 4-yard line.
The Owls turned momentum around with an interception by senior Brandon Johnson, who has 11 solo tackles during the contest. The teams went into halftime scoreless, with Marshall holding the ball for nearly 10 minutes of the third quarter while staging a 10-play, 70-yard drive capped by Maupin's 5-yard bootleg run on fourth down and goal to goal.
When the Owls got the ball back, they held it for 15 snaps -- 10 of them runs by senior Marc Plummer -- and took a two-touchdown lead when Maupin flipped a 14-yard pass to senior Austin Stickels, in his first game back after being injured in the previous game at Moberly.
There were still 10 years remaining, though, and the Spartans hadn't won seven games for nothing. Senior Brandon Elkins caught two passes from junior Justin Connaway, the second one an 11-yard TD toss with 4:35 remaining.
Moberly got possession again at its own 4-yard line after a 61-yard Cott punt, but Connaway completed 10 passes and -- with help of a personal foul penalty -- tied the game with a 12-yard scoring strike to junior Jalen Troy with 21 seconds left.
Marshall won the OT coin toss and went on defense and didn't yield a yard, but the Spartans were still close enough for senior Rick Webb to kick a 42-yard field goal for a 17-14 lead.
The Owls converted a pair of third downs to reach the Moberly 4, where on his second plunge into the line Maupin crossed the goal line for the sudden victory.
"We had our minds set: we're scoring, we're moving on," explained Plummer, who ran for 176 yards on a career-high 30 carries.
Move on they did, for a rematch at seventh-ranked Hannibal. The district semifinal contest was competitive, the Pirates leading by only a touchdown at halftime. But senior Jahwaun Cassidy, who would go on to have a fine career at Missouri Valley College, returned the second-half kickoff 80 yards for a score for a 34-13 victory.
It was a disappointing loss, but hardly a discouraging one.
"Those guys fought through adversity and turned the program around in the right direction," Stockman said.
It didn't work out that way. After losing most of its starters to graduation, Marshall reverted back to mediocrity. Stockman lasted five seasons, leaving following another 0-10 campaign in 2016. Adam Huse replaced him, also going winless his first year, but has since won five games over two seasons with reasonable hopes 2020 could push the Owls back to the winning column -- if they get a chance.
"20 Years/20 Memories" is a series of personal retrospectives of significant moments in local sports since the start of the millennium by Chris Allen, Sports Editor the Marshall Democrat-Newssince 1996.
Contact Chris Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org