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Pioneers out to make statement vs. Blue Streaks

Photo by Jordan Holland Marietta College’s Bryce Agnew (24) celebrates with teammate Joe Rutheford (77) after scoring a touchdown in the Pioneers’ 30-20 win over Baldwin Wallace last Friday at Don Drumm Stadium.

It would have been really easy for the Marietta College football team to be discouraged when the Ohio Athletic Conference released the spring schedule.

The Pioneers found out they had to open with Baldwin Wallace on the road before traveling to powerhouses John Carroll and Mount Union and then return home to take on rival Muskingum. The Pioneers welcomed the challenge, and stepped up to it last Friday with a 30-20 victory over BW at Don Drumm Stadium.

Now, they’re out to prove it wasn’t a fluke as they head to University Heights for a 7 p.m. kickoff this Friday.

“When they sent us our schedule, one way we could have looked at it was ‘Woe is me, look who we have to play,'” said MC head coach Andy Waddle. “Or, we could look at it as an awesome opportunity to play against some really great football teams in Division III. It’s a challenge our guys wanted to take on.”

The Pioneers made a statement early against the Yellow Jackets, registering two sacks on the first drive and six total for the game as their pass rush made its presence felt from start to finish.

“I did think we would be able to pressure quarterbacks,” Waddle said. “We kind of came along toward the end of the 2019 season. We’d improved our defense, and we were young. We’ve seen some growth and development in those guys. It remains to be seen if that will continue.”

Drake Neuberger was named the OAC Defensive Player of the Week after tallying eight tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble against Baldwin Wallace. Caleb Boy, Kyle Gallagher, Ahmed Muhammad, Brent McClure, Mahleek Melton, Jesse Berzonski, Kyler Folkert and Nick Godfrey were among the other Pioneers to get after the quarterback.

“We were happy to get out there and get a win,” Waddle said. “The defense played pretty well. There’s still some things we can work on. We gave up two long passes, and there were some other mistakes. We were obviously able to pressure the quarterback and limit their time to sit back in the pocket. The run defense was pretty good minus one or two drives.”

Offensively, sophomore Ethan Brown made his first start at quarterback and went 8 for 24 for 125 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.

“If you look at the statline, you’d say there’s room for improvement,” Waddle said. “But if you’re just looking at that, I think you’re not really looking at the game he played. Ethan got us into good checks, and that’s part of the success we had offensively in the second half. He was getting us out of a bad play and into a better play. He made some big plays, threw a touchdown, had a couple other big pass plays. He was the victim of a couple drops, which is part of the game, too. We’re certainly excited about the continued development we’ll see from him.”

Bryce Agnew was the Pioneers’ leading rusher, going for 97 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries. Dre Baldwin, who hauled in Brown’s touchdown pass, caught three passes for 85 yards.

Looking at this week, John Carroll comes in having split its first two games. The Blue Streaks defeated BW 28-17 in week one (Marietta had a bye) before falling to Mount Union 52-27.

“What stands out to me is they’re extremely well coached,” Waddle said. “They don’t give you anything, and that’s always a challenge. It’s about out-executing them. They have two really talented running backs. Their offensive line is big and physical. Defensively, they’re structurally really, really good. They’ve got some really good players in there.”

Jake Floriea plays quarterback for JCU, and through two games he’s 36 for 60 for 381 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions.

Demetrius Goodwin is the leading rusher with 28 carries, 102 yards and two TDs, while Matthew Buser has 21 rushes, 91 yards and a score.

John Carroll’s top two receiving weapons are Brennan Fugh (12 catches, 150 yards, two TDs) and Devin Limerick (9 catches, 119 yards, 1 TD). That will be a matchup to watch as they go up against Marietta’s talented defensive backfield, which includes Tay Pryor, Malik Grier, Jaelon Quiero-Gordon and Darius Hatch.

Marietta has never beaten John Carroll before, but has come very close each of the last two seasons, falling 27-24 in 2018 and 23-21 in 2019.

“We’ve played them down to the wire the last two times we’ve seen them,” Waddle said. “We’re excited to get back out there and have the opportunity to get a special win. We have to eliminate the mistakes from Friday and take advantage of the opportunities we get.”

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