Owls give glimpse of what could be

Monday, August 23, 2010
After a slow start, the Owls' defense clamped down, senior Ryan Smith (2) and sophomore Berry Benedick (59) throwing Carrollton freshman Keaton Sullivan for a 6-yard loss. (Chris Allen/Democrat-News)

FAYETTE -- The Marshall football team found its mojo indoors Friday.

Midway through the second set of the preseason Jamboree at Fayette, thunderstorms swept through, eventually washing out the rest of the grid fest. However, Normandy arrived late from St. Louis and hadn't been able to suit up, so the Owls obliged with a scrimmage in Central Methodist University's indoor practice facility, occupied by the Eagles only a few minutes earlier.

That's when the hitting really started.

"That team is what we talk to our team about: playing fast," remarked Marshall head coach Jay Eilers, pointing to the Vikings -- who lost a close MSHSAA Class 4 quarterfinal tilt last year to Helias, which was given a hard time by the Owls a few weeks earlier in the District opener.

"You've got to fly around and make plays at that speed," he noted. "No question we improved."

Slow starts are one of the factors that turned what may have been a winning season against tough competition a year ago into a 3-7 campaign, considering Marshall's 133-68 first-half scoring deficit. Giving up a 44-yard touchdown run by Carrollton junior Terrence Winn on the third play of the night Friday was an ominous start, as was the Owls' stoppage on downs the first time they got the ball.

Fortunately, things got better on the field for Marshall. The defense didn't give up another first down to the Trojans, a talented group coming off a 10-2 playoff campaign, and nearly came up with a fumble forced by sophomore Brandon Johnson.

Then the offense got clicking, following a first down run with a play with which Marshall fans will become familiar: an inside hand-off on a wingback counter, this one to senior Jacob Adcock for a 48-yard TD. It's one of many little wrinkles in the double-wing offense.

"I scripted 12 plays, and we didn't get off the script," Eilers said. "We took it as an opportunity for improvement."

Mexico got two first downs during its 13-play series, but even with new sets in the Owls' territory didn't punch through to score. Marshall lost a fumble on the fifth of six plays before lightning cleared the field, followed closely by an hour-long torrential downpour.

It was in more intimate confines that the real thunder boomed. Normandy was too talented to be fully contained by the Owls, but they gave as good as they got. Eilers was in the middle of his squad, so filled with joyous intensity that putting a number on his back seemed plausible, and the energy was contagious.

"What I want to improve on is ..." Eilers began before suddenly cutting to the bone. "This is an emotional game. This is a game of passion."

So it was that the unnatural environment of playing under a tin roof on an unmarked green rug produced pure, hard-nosed football. If that type of enthusiasm can carry over to Friday and beyond, the Owls may have a chance to end a 24-year win drought against Chillicothe and exorcize some of their other demons of recent years.

"They know our expectations, what we want to do in the future," Eilers said. "Now it's putting those things into action."

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