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Rivalry week: Pioneers hoping to hook Muskies

Photo by Jordan Holland Marietta College’s Ahmed Muhammad (32) and Jesse Berzonski (72) try to shed blocks during a college football game against Baldwin Wallace earlier this season at Don Drumm Stadium.

The Marietta College and Muskingum University football programs know each other very well.

A lot of the players on each team were recruited by both schools. Some of the players went to the same high school. Plus, the two schools are about an hour apart. All these factors make for a classic rivalry, but Marietta head coach Andy Waddle is hoping the Pioneers focus more on themselves than the Muskies.

“We really try, to some degree, to have a faceless opponent,” Waddle said. “We want to focus on the things in our control. A lot of the guys on our team were recruited by Muskingum, and we recruited a lot of their guys. It creates a natural rivalry. I think the guys are excited to get out and play.”

Marietta won its opener against Baldwin Wallace (30-20) before losing at John Carroll (34-10) and Mount Union (20-3) the last two weeks. Muskingum last played on March 12, losing to Mount Union before having its next two games canceled due to COVID-19 protocols. It presents a unique challenge as Waddle and his staff try to gameplan for a team that hasn’t put anything on film in nearly a month.

“It’s kind of similar to when you gameplan for a team before they’ve played any games, like at the beginning of the year,” he said.

“I’ve never coached in a bowl game, but it’s something Division I teams deal with all the time. You have some idea of what it’s going to look like, but you’re not going to have a full breath of their tendencies.”

The challenge of facing Muskingum starts with their quarterback, Jordan Garrett. He completed 20 of 33 passes for 229 yards, two touchdowns and one interception against the Purple Raiders.

“He’s a really dynamic player,” Waddle said. “He’s athletic. He throws the ball well and he gets the ball out on time. He does a lot of good stuff.”

Marietta will attack Garrett with one of the best pass rushing units in the Ohio Athletic Conference. The Pioneers have sacked opposing QBs 13 times in three games, led by Drake Neuberger’s six.

“We’ve been able to pressure quarterbacks,” Waddle said. “When you can do that without needing to send a blitz, that makes a big difference. Our front four has been good with that.”

Offensively, Marietta quarterback Ethan Brown has completed 35 of 74 passes for 332 yards, two TDs and three interceptions this season. His top target has been Dre Baldwin, who has eight catches for 132 yards and two scores. Bryce Agnew leads Marietta’s rushing attack. He’s carried it 53 times for 237 yards (4.5 yards per carry) and three touchdowns.

Rarely does a 17-point loss serve as a confidence boost, but Mount Union is a Division III powerhouse and the Pioneers hung tough. It was 8-3 at halftime, but Marietta just couldn’t get anything going offensively.

“Our guys fought hard throughout the game,” Waddle said. “Mount’s a tough challenge, and we didn’t quite make enough plays to win the game.”

To bounce back and come out with a win against the Muskies, Waddle made it clear what the Pioneers will have to do.

“We have to somewhat limit their quarterback,” he said. “We have to limit him from creating a lot of big plays. We have to establish the running game, be efficient in the passing game and be good on special teams.”

A win for Marietta would lock up third place on its side of the OAC. That means for next week’s placement game, the Pioneers would play Wilmington. If Marietta loses to Muskingum, its opponent next week would be between Wilmington, Capital or Otterbein.

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