Pioneers set for home opener, rivalry game

Photo by Jordan Holland Marietta College’s Justin Bell (20) carries the ball against Wilmington last season at Don Drumm Stadium.

The Pioneers are coming home.

After a successful two-game road trip in which Marietta College outscored Hiram and Capital 85-7, the Pios are ready for Saturday’s home opener against rival Muskingum. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Don Drumm Stadium.

“To get back home for the first time is exciting,” said Marietta head coach Andy Waddle. “Our home openers the past few seasons, the atmosphere is like no place else we go. The community really gets behind us.”

Marietta is 2-0 and currently has the No. 1 defense in the Ohio Athletic Conference. The Pioneers have allowed 3.5 points per game and 199 yards per game, both league bests.

“I’m excited about the improvements we’ve made defensively,” Waddle said. “It’s still really early and we haven’t played a dominant offense, but still, we’ve made progress on that side of the ball.”

Waddle said the Eric Iueter-coached Muskies, who are 1-1 after beating Waynesburg 31-20 in week one before falling to Ohio Northern 39-10 last week, will present Marietta’s defense its biggest challenge to date.

“This will be the best quarterback we’ve played,” Waddle said. “It may be the best running back we’ve played, and certainly the best (quarterback-running back) combo.”

Brody Hahn is in his third year as Muskingum’s starting signal-caller. He’s 22 for 39 for 229 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He’s also rushed for 113 yards and three TDs on 20 carries.

Marietta High graduate Bernard Johnson is Muskingum’s workhorse out of the backfield. He’s carried 29 times for 117 yards, but has yet to reach the end zone. Wide receiver Tyler Heinecke, who has eight receptions for 87 yards, has been Hahn’s top target so far.

Waddle also expects his offense to be challenged Saturday.

“I’m really impressed with (Muskingum’s) defensive line and their middle linebacker. They do some different things that are challenging. They have four really good players on their defensive front. Their middle linebacker (Caleb Gaiters) is fast and athletic and one of their corners (Cortez McGinnis) is one of the better defensive backs in the league.”

Defensive lineman Tim Ousley is tied for the OAC lead with 2 1/2 sacks for the Muskies.

“We’re going to try to figure out ways to put points on the board,” Waddle said.

Marietta’s offense has enjoyed plenty of success in the first two games. Quarterback Kyle McSweeney is tied for the OAC lead with seven touchdown passes while receiver Andrew Barker is tied for the conference lead with five TD receptions. Running back Tanner Clark, despite missing the first quarter against Capital with an injury, has three rushing touchdowns and is third in the OAC with 223 rushing yards.

“He’s awesome,” Waddle said of Clark playing through pain. “You can look at the stats sheet and tell he’s a good football player, but what people who don’t watch him may not know is that he’s a grinder. He’s a hard worker. He’s a guy that does it right in every phase of life, from the classroom to the community. He’s somebody you root for, but he’s somebody you don’t want to be against because he’ll do anything he can to win.”

Another weapon for Marietta is sophomore punter Bailey Sprague, a Belpre graduate. Sprague punted seven times against Capital for a net average of 35.1. He had two punts downed inside the 20 en route to being named OAC Special Teams Player of the Week.

Marietta has won three of the last four meetings in its rivalry series with Muskingum, including each of the last two (Marietta won 46-20 last year in New Concord). However, the Muskies lead the all-time series 52-43-2.

“We’re expecting Muskingum to come down here and be fired up,” Waddle said. “Our guys will be fired up, too.”

Jordan Holland can be reached at jholland@mariettatimes.com.