Senior running back and linebacker Eugene Wolff will play a pivotal role in deciding who wins the rivalry matchup between his Waterloo Pirates and the Marshall Cardinals Friday, Sept. 17.

The time-honored rivalry between Marshall and Waterloo will add a new chapter Friday, Sept. 17 when the Pirates visit the Cardinals for their homecoming. With the better record, history on their side, and home-field advantage, it would be easy to pick Marshall as the favorite. But, the Pirates are much improved in head coach Dave Frisell’s third year at the helm. Marshall and Waterloo fans alike are in for a treat, here’s what to keep an eye on this Friday.

Marshall has history on its side

While this matchup is considered a rivalry, it’s been a little one-sided in favor of the Cardinals. Waterloo has beaten Marshall just twice since 2010. The Cardinals are winners of three straight, including a 14-2 victory last year. The last time Waterloo even scored double digits against its rival was 2018.

Battle of the Backs

Both Marshall and Waterloo tout some outstanding athletes at the running back position. Senior Bryce Frank of Marshall was the 2020 Eastern Suburban Conference Offensive Player of the Year thanks to his 843 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in just seven games. This season, he’s averaging 7.4 yards per carry as he’s rushed for 252 yards and two touchdowns. He’s also upped his contribution in the passing game, catching six passes for 142 yard and three scores so far this season.

Not to be overlooked, sophomore fullback Matthew Motl has been impressive on the ground this season as well. He’s taken some of the pressure off of Frank, carrying the ball 52 times so far this season for 236 yards. The 5’11”, 210 lbs. bruiser is an absolute tank, routinely bouncing off of would-be tacklers as he gobbles up more yardage. This two-headed Cardinal rushing attack is a blast to watch and terrifying to defend.

Waterloo’s answer to Frank and Motl is senior Eugene Wolff. Wolff was very impressive in the 2020 season as well, turning 119 carries into 744 yards and seven touchdowns in five games. With a sophomore taking over a quarterback this year, somehow more of the workload has been forked onto Wolff’s plate. He already has 115 carries through four games this season, which he’s turned into 758 yards and eight touchdowns.

Who has the hot hand?

Quarterback play was a question mark for both Marshall and Waterloo coming into the season. Four games in, there are still some questions, but there have also been plenty of answers.

Waterloo’s Cal Hush, only a sophomore, was brought along slowly by Frisell. With Wolff there to carry the rock and a solid offensive line, he opted to not overwhelm his quarterback with too much responsibility early in the season. In week 4 against Cambridge, he really tested what his signal caller could do, and Hush delivered. He threw four touchdowns as the Pirates beat the Bluejays. In all, Hush has completed 53% of his passes for 469 yards and seven touchdowns with only one interception. Hush has the momentum, will Frisell continue to heap responsibility on him?

As for Marshall, senior Craig Ward’s emergence as a bonafide playmaker was a welcomed surprise. After throwing as many touchdowns as interceptions (seven) in 2020, Ward has put his turnover-laden past behind him. In his first three games, Ward threw 10 touchdowns and just one interception. Last week’s matchup with Clinton was his first real slip, where he threw two picks in the second half. Still he’s currently completing 60% of his passes for 767 yards, 12 touchdowns and three picks. Whether he’s shaken by the rough second half last week or not can be a huge determining factor in this game.

Which receiving duo makes the bigger impact?

Both Marshall and Waterloo are lucky enough to have two capable receivers, making things tough on whatever poor defensive backfield is tasked with stopping them. With the threat of the running game as potent as it is for both squads, the receivers have a chance to greatly impact this football game.

Marshall has the more experienced duo in seniors Cole Denniston and Canon Siedschlag. Both were first team All-Conference last season, and they’ve backed it up this year. Siedschlag has 10 catches for 276 yards and four touchdowns while Denniston has 13 for 231 and three scores. Both have fantastic separation skills and can make defenses pay if they focus too much on the backfield.

Waterloo has entrusted a couple of young bucks to shoulder the receiving load. Sophomores Trevor Firari and Ryan Sturgill have been Hush’s biggest targets this season. Firari is a true speedster and has turned his 14 catches this year into 276 yards and four scores. Sturgill makes his impact felt as well as he’s had six catches for 112 yards and a touchdown.

Both teams have homerun threats on the outside, but who will take the bigger swing Friday?

Defensive trenches provide the pressure

The defensive lines of both Marshall and Waterloo have been outstanding this season. When talented offenses have come to town, both have stepped up, provided great penetration and pressure, and given their teams a chance to win.

Marshall’s defensive front seven, headlined by playmakers like junior linebacker Erik Ayala and senior linemen Luis Bello and Jack Hellenbrand, plus a host of others have made life tough on opposing offensive lines. Bello has four sacks this season and seemingly lives in the opposing team’s backfield. Hellenbrand has added 1.5 himself. The most points the Cardinals have given up this season is just 16 against Pardeeville.

As for Waterloo, the elite pass rushing of senior defensive lineman Maximos Besl is surrounded by plenty of capable Pirates like linebackers Wolff and senior Antonio Unzueta. Waterloo’s season high in points surrendered, 22 in a loss to Markesan, is also a reasonable mark.

While history may say Marshall should be favored, this should shake out to be a pretty even ballgame. The rivals are more similar than they would care to let on, it will come down to conditioning, strength in the trenches, and savvy coaching to decide this Eastern Suburban Conference clash.

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