Home stretch: Pioneer football has 2 games remaining on slate

When the Marietta College Pioneers visit Otterbein Saturday, they are hoping to put together four quarters of solid football.

After battling a tough Baldwin-Wallace squad to a 7-7 tie with 31 seconds remaining in the first half of last Saturday’s game at Don Drumm Stadium, a pick-6 by Dan O’Brien just before halftime triggered a 24-0 run as the Yellow Jackets won 31-7.

If they can take their performance in the first 29 minutes and 29 seconds of that contest and translate it to an entire game, the Pios will present a tough matchup for the Cardinals this Saturday.

“Baldwin-Wallace made great adjustments at the half,” said MC head coach Andy Waddle. “They got a little bit of a leg up on us. We just didn’t finish the game the way we started.”

Waddle mentioned penalties, turnovers and the kicking game as areas that need improvement from last week. The Pios had 14 points taken off the scoreboard due to flags and were “continuously backed up.”

If Marietta can correct these issues, it would go a long way towards putting together a complete game.

Marietta continued to attack with a heavy dose of the run game against B-W, as the trio of Tim Conner, Roger Bush and Patrick Lewis carried the ball a combined 44 times for 165 yards. Conner’s 3-yard TD run with 3:44 left in the first quarter was MC’s only score of the game.

Against an Otterbein defense that is surrendering 190 rushing yards per game this season, look for the Pios to keep pounding away on the ground.

“We’re gonna want to go in and establish the run,” Waddle said. “Game nine, it’s no secret that we want to run the football. We want to try to create gaps and open some holes in the run game, but a balanced attack is always important.”

In order to find that balance, MC will need a consistent passing attack which starts with quarterback Tom Fulton. Fulton ended the Baldwin-Wallace game 14-of-27 passing for 195 yards but had three passes intercepted. He did have some big plays nullified by penalties.

If Fulton can connect with receivers like Kirby Harris (42 catches, 507 yards) and Josh Llaneza (32 catches, 335 yards) and make the Cardinals D respect the passing game, it should open up running lanes for the backfield.

When Marietta is on defense, it faces an Otterbein offense that is averaging 12.1 points per game, last in the Ohio Athletic Conference. However, the Cardinals do have players capable of moving the football, starting with QB Ben Sizemore. Sizemore has completed 60 percent of his pass attempts this season for 1,379 yards. He has been a model of efficiency, throwing 10 touchdowns passes to just one interception.

Sizemore has one of the league’s top receivers in Steven Carpenter (43 catches, 567 yards) and a talented running back in Drew Ervin (80 carries, 388 yards) at his disposal.

Waddle said he was impressed with Otterbein’s ability to take care of the football and noted that the Pioneers will try to show multiple looks defensively to possibly confuse Sizemore and force him into some mistakes.

“I’ve been a part of teams that have been able to bring extra guys and force the quarterback to get the ball out early,” Waddle said. “But that forces you to give up something from a coverage standpoint which can be nerve-wracking. The best-case scenario for us is to line up with four guys up front, get pressure and line up with our normal coverage.”

Regardless of how they line up, Waddle said his defenders have improved throughout the season and hopes that continues this week. “We’ve struggled defensively this year, but you’ve seen us go out and get better as the season’s progressed,” Waddle said. “We have to go out and keep the scoring under control.

“We’ll hopefully be able to do good things defensively.”