By Mike Moore
There really wasn’t a way to script what happened last year.
In fact, had someone had the screenplay of what was going to happen, before it did, believers would have been tough to come by.
Still, there’s a reason the games aren’t played on paper, and the 2014 meeting between Marshall and Western might as well have been played in an arena league.
“I think both teams learned some lessons from that one,” Marshall football coach Jason Stealy said of Marshall’s 45-44 overtime victory over the Panthers on Sept. 12, 2014.
“The lessons we’ve preached since that game is coming into every week ready to play from the start,” said Western’s Dave Mifsud. His team trailed Marshall 35-10 at one point, before roaring back to force overtime. The effort was spoiled in overtime, and the Panthers, 2-0 at the time, lost five in a row and ended the season 4-5.
A year later, the teams are set to meet again, with plenty on the line for both.
Western is again 2-0, again taking aim at a first playoff berth in program history, and again, having to get past a Marshall team that’s won 10 in a row in this series, although most of those came prior to the 2001 season.
Marshall, on the other hand, comes in at 1-1, looking to play a complete game, and desperately in need of shaking off last week’s 9-7 loss to Coldwater.
“We talked to the guys Monday, and we understand the mistakes have to be cleaned up,” Stealy said of his group. “We have to keep to working to make sure we are doing what we know we can. Our goals of winning the conference and making the playoffs are still obtainable. Coldwater was one loss, and we can’t let that turn into anything else.”
For Western, there’s an obvious goal on the line — start a season 3-0 for the first time since 2009, and just the second time since 1975.
“I think it almost goes without saying the opportunity we have here,” Mifsud said. “The players are excited. The community is excited for us. If we can find a way to win this one, we’re one step closer to having that goal of a playoff spot.”
It won’t be easy for either team.
Marshall comes in with a defense that’s given up 22 points in two weeks. The Redhawks beat Milan 20-19 in the opener, and in last week’s loss, the lone touchdown came via a pick-6.
“We have to mix it up against them,” Mifsud said. “We have to run and throw the ball efficiently, and we can’t be afraid to attempt several passes. We’re going to have our hands full. It’s a very tough challenge.”
“Their offense is good, and they score a lot of points,” Stealy said of Western’s offense, which totaled 55 points the first two weeks. “We have to either stop them, or the offense has to try and score along with them. It’s going to be a four-quarter fight.”
“Offensively, honestly I don’t think we’re clicking yet,” Mifsud said of his guys. “I feel like we can play better than we have been in both games. We’ve had some penalties that really killed some drives. We’ve made some passes we don’t like, and we’ve dropped the ball in some key spots.”
If Westerns can get the passing game going, and then open up the run, it may be a long night for Marshall, which has yet to see a team capable of passing.
Still, the Redhawks held Coldwater to 76 total yards last week.
And Stealy knows the mistake Marshall made last year.
“Took the foot off the pedal,” he said. Stealy is in his first year as head coach. “We have to be ready to go and match their intensity from the start.”
“We’re really looking forward to it. It’s exciting,” Mifsud said. “I think we have a chance to find out if this is a team that can take that next step.”
JTV is covering the Marshall-Western game. Check back Saturday for a complete game story.
The game broadcast will air Sept. 13 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. on JTV and JTV.tv