Both Marshall and Clinton entered their Friday, Sept. 10th Eastern Suburban Conference clash 3-0. Yet, the Cardinals made it seem like they were the only ones that deserved that record, beating the Cougars 28-6 behind a dominant defensive performance.
From the jump, the Cardinal defense made its presence felt. On Clinton’s first drive of the game, the Cougars had to operate behind the sticks early thanks to defensive linemen Jack Hellenbrand and Taylor Michalak crashing through the offensive line and combining for a sack. Clinton salvaged the possession with a huge run up the middle on 3rd and long, only for senior linebacker Bryce Frank to pop the ball out of the quarterback’s hands on a keeper the very next play. The Cardinals hopped on the fumble and took over on their own 39 yard line.
Much like the defense, the offense wasted no time establishing tempo. On the first play of the possession, sophomore running back Matthew Motl took a handoff and exploded through the middle of the field, scampering 61 yards for the score. With a successful 2-point conversion, Marshall took an early 8-0 lead with seven minutes left in the first quarter. This would remain the score for the remainder of the quarter as both defenses found some footing.
The Cardinals were lucky their running game was working so effectively, because the passing game was not. Three drops early in the game stifled a few otherwise promising drives for Marshall. So, when senior Cole Denniston dropped a would-be touchdown from about the Clinton 25 yard line, head coach Matt Kleinheinz decided to keep it on the ground.
He fed Motl carries, and the sophomore delivered. He carried Cougar defenders down the field, even once converting a 4th and 1 for his team. He punctuated his drive with a 5-yard push into the endzone. Quarterback Craig Ward dove for the endzone on the 2-point conversion to give his Cardinals a 16-0 lead with 10 minutes left in the first half.
After Marshall’s defense forced another punt, Kleinheinz decided it was time to put the ball in the air. It was solid timing, too, because Clinton had no interest in covering senior receiver Cole Denniston on a post route. No one came within five yards of the speedy receiver as he took it 70 yards for the score. Even with a failed 2-point conversion, the Cardinals had a vice grip on the lead.
Marshall’s aerial attack continued in the following possession, but not in the “bombs away” approach from the previous one. Instead, Kleinheinz utilized the screen game. Playing from behind the sticks on 2nd & 17 in their own territory, the Cardinals needed a chunk. A railroad screen up the middle of the field to Motl picked up the necessary yardage to keep the drive alive. A few plays later, Frank lined up as a receiver and popped out on a bubble screen. The senior dropped one juke and outran the rest of the Cougar defenders, scoring from 41 yards out to boost the lead to 28-0.
Clinton put together a solid drive attempt near the end of the half, but were derailed by two huge plays. First, Luis Bello recorded a huge sack to force Clinton to burn a timeout. Just as the Cougars were starting to find momentum again, senior linebacker Erik Ayala defended a pass beautifully, causing a tip into the air which landed comfortably in Frank’s hands, securing the first-half shutout for the Cardinals.
All hope was not lost for Clinton, however. The Cougars came out of halftime with one play design in mind: the jet sweep. Even after shooting themselves in the foot with a false start right out of the game, senior running back Abel Espinoza still took the sweep and made the most of it, shedding Cardinal defenders left and right in the midst of his 55-yard touchdown run. Though the 2-point conversion failed, it was a long-awaited sign of life from Clinton’s offense.
The jet sweep worked once more for the Cougars on the next drive, a run of about 20 yards, then nothing.
Two jabs were enough for the Cardinals to learn their lesson and establish discipline on the edges. Clinton’s offense never sniffed the endzone again as Marshall put the clamps on.
Similarly, though, Clinton really turned up the defensive pressure in the second half. Clinton senior cornerback Grant Koehl pulled down two interceptions in the half alone. Coming into the game, Ward had only thrown one interception all season. With Ward a little shaken, the steady hand of Frank was the answer. He ripped off multiple runs of more than 10 yards as the game wound down, keeping the ball in Marshall possession and burning clock.
Marshall was able to knee out the clock late in the fourth quarter, icing the victory and propelling them to a 4-0 record.
Motl led the team in rushing with 118 yards on 20 carries, followed by Frank with 74 yards on 10 carries.
Denniston led the team in receiving with 85 yards on his three catches. Ward was solid throwing the ball outside of his two picks, completing seven of his 15 pass attempts for 154 yards and two scores.
Next week is Homecoming for Marshall, but there will be no warm welcome for its opponent. Rival Waterloo comes to town, and the Pirates are much improved this season. Toting a 3-1 record, their sole loss came to a solid Markesan team, 22-12. This most recent week, the Pirates defeated Cambridge 33-14. Sophomore quarterback Cal Hush erupted for four passing touchdowns and senior running back Eugene Wolff added 141 rushing yards in the win. Waterloo has a feisty defensive line, which could spell trouble for the undersized Marshall offensive line. This Friday at Marshall High School is a can’t-miss affair.