Owls give away District 14 opener

Monday, October 27, 2003
The Owls' threat to break a 3-3 tie before halftime was foiled when Raytown South's Corey Knight (right) jabbed the ball away from sophomore D.W. Bradshaw three yards away from the goal line.

RAYTOWN -- The Marshall football team didn't act like a whipped puppy, despite bringing a six-game losing streak into Friday's Class 4, District 14 debut at Raytown South.

"They were as intense as I've ever seen them," remarked Owls head coach Paul Thomas. "They didn't quit."

Still, the mistakes which have afflicted Marshall during its slide -- turnovers, blocked kicks and the occasional missed tackle -- were all the Cardinals needed to bang out a 27-6 victory.

"They played as hard as they could play," Thomas said in assessing his Owls' effort. "We just shoot ourselves in the foot."

Marshall got off to a promising start, for the first time this season scoring on its initial possession. Senior Justin Cary's 25-yard run got the Owls in position for senior Sean McCracken to boot a 50-yard field goal -- shattering the school record of 42 yards set by Scott Fann against Kirksville in 1999.

"Our kids did a good job of executing," Thomas said. "I felt like we could run the 'veer,' and we did."

South wasn't putting much together against Marshall's defense, either, with only two first downs in the Cardinals' first four series -- one of those on a questionable pass interference penalty. However, senior Bruce Watkins blocked a McCracken punt to give the ball to South on the MHS 34-yard line and, although it didn't move far from there, freshman Andrew Knight tied the game with a 46-yard kick.

The Owls came back with a 13-play drive, but a holding penalty and sack by South junior Korie Henry stopped them.

Knight missed a 51-yard field goal try with 2:13 left in the half and Marshall reeled off three straight first downs when Cary connected with senior Jonathan Durham on passes of 23 and 20 yards and sophomore Chad Gibson dashed for 25 yards.

"We were catching them in 'Cover Three,'" Thomas explained. "We had them on their heels and our offensive line was coming off the football well."

McCracken caught a nine-yard toss to set up fourth down and inches to go on the Cardinals' 3-yard line, but on the next play senior Corey Knight poked the ball loose from MHS sophomore D.W. Bradshaw and senior Kevin Hendrickson recovered the fumble with 38 seconds left in the half.

"That's a big momentum swing," Thomas confessed. "I'm not going to fault D.W. He runs hard. It just hurt us."

The Owls coughed up the ball again three snaps into the second half when Cary pulled away before securing the snap at his own 32. South cashed in two plays later when senior Raymond Bell went 28 yards to the end zone on a swing pass.

Marshall charged back, though. Cary carried three times for 27 yards, a late hit adding to the gain on the second run and a chopping tackle hurting his knee on the last try -- taking him out of the game. That proved to be a blow from which the Owls were unable to recover, Cary having accounted for 66 of the team's 98 rushing yards and completing seven of 10 passes for 83 yards.

"It hurt us when he went down," Thomas said. "He has some speed to him and it helped us."

Marshall's offense stalled, but McCracken converted a 32-yard three-pointer to close the margin to 10-6. Senior Jonathan Lea then fell on a fumble, but the Owls gave the ball back when Hendrickson intercepted Gibson's halfback option pass and returned it 19 yards.

Senior David Robinson's 13-yard reverse and another pass interference penalty got South within striking range -- and it did with a sweep by junior Miguel Warren. Apparently trapped by senior Jon Keehart before turning the left corner, Warren eluded the pursuit and broke two more tackles on the way to a 33-yard touchdown.

That was the back-breaker for the Owls, especially since they were only able to get one first down in the four drives after Cary left the game. Andrew Knight, a soccer player sporting a cast on his arm, evened up the long-distance kicking duel by setting a Raytown South record with a 52-yard field goal.

The Cardinals were cruising to victory, and there was nothing Marshall could do about it.

With the scoring margin exceeding the maximum 13 "power points" which could be useful in a tiebreaker for a playoff spot, Raytown South head coach David Allie decided to rub it in after sophomore Ryan Sparks fell on Marshall junior Clay Samson's flubbed punt return on the Owls' 4 with 49 seconds left.

Instead of taking a knee and running out the clock, as Thomas had done on previous occasions, Allie elected to send in Warren for a meaningless touchdown -- infuriating the Marshall coaches and sparking some harsh post-game words between the staffs.

So it was that the respect the Cardinals (3-5, 1-0 District 14) rightfully deserved was squandered by hubris. For their part, the Owls may have earned some self-esteem by their willingness to not let losing sap their energy. Thomas is hoping that may pay off this week when Marshall (1-7, 0-1) hosts district favorite Smith-Cotton, especially since an early loss under the MSHSAA format does not automatic eliminate a team from playoff contention -- as has been proven in the Owls' loop the past two seasons.

"Our kids need to understand that," Thomas declared. "Anything can happen."

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