Bolivar football hopes some home cooking will help them rebound from last week's road loss. The Liberators host 1-2 Marshall for homecoming Friday, Sept. 14, at Plaster Stadium to start a two-game home stand.
The Owls are the second straight North Central Missouri Conference school BHS will face. Marshall fell last week 35-25 to Mexico at home in a NCMC game. Marshall coach Adam Huse is familiar with the Liberators after spending 11 seasons at Springfield Hillcrest as the defensive coordinator.
Marshall has had its share of struggles the last few seasons, snapping a 21-game losing streak with a week 1 road win at Chillicothe.
"Marshall is a good football team, and we will need to play very well this week to slow down their high powered spread(-option) offense," said Bolivar coach Glen Johnson.
The Owls' spread-option offense is guided by sophomore quarterback Ben Haug, who is a dual threat for Bolivar to watch out for. Haug passed for a school record 374 yards and four touchdowns week 2 at Warrensburg, which also ranked third on the MSHSAA all-time single-game passing list according to the Marshall Democrat-News. Haug has completed 56 percent of his passes for 753 yards, with eight touchdowns and four interceptions. Picks were a problem for Haug last week against Mexico, as the Bulldogs returned two interceptions for scores, including one for 104 yards. Haug can also take off and run the ball when needed, scoring two rushing touchdowns this season. He left last week's game with a concussion, and his status for Friday is unknown.
Haug's main targets are junior Jace Lance and senior Jaylen Varner, who also spent time at quarterback last week. Lance is the leading receiver for Marshall with 283 yards on 13 catches and a team-high four TDs. Varner is close behind at 253 yards on 14 catches and a pair of scores.
The Owls' ground game has yet to take flight, only producing 5.3 yards a game so far. Senior Tariq Coleman is the leading rusher with 24 yards and 1.4 yards a carry. Marshall has finished in the red for rushing yards two straight weeks.
"Offensively, we must not turn the ball over," Huse said. "We must be able to get enough of a running game going to at least make them concerned about it. We also must make sure we catch the football. We had way too many drops the last two weeks."
The offensive and defensive lines are inexperienced for the young Owls up front. Marshall has been more pass than run on offense as a result, allowing 21 sacks the first three weeks by opposing defenses. Johnson said since his line also is young, it will be an even, but important, matchup in the game.
"We are both young up front, and that should level the playing field a bit. It will be whoever can win the line of scrimmage," Johnson said.
The Owls' 4-3 defense is led by senior strong safety Duffin Makings at a rover position. Junior middle linebacker Ethan Stickels is also a key player for Marshall on defense.
"On defense we must make Bolivar drive the field and not give up big plays," Huse said. "If we can do that and tackle, we will be competitive."
Bolivar (1-2) looks to bounce back from last week's 49-12 road loss at Hannibal. Bolivar finished the game strong with a pair of touchdowns in the second half. The BHS secondary looks to shine again this season, limiting opponents to 110.7 passing yards a game.
"Offensively, finish in the red zone, and on defense we need to win the turnover battle and tackle well," Johnson said.
The Bolivar lineup will be aided with the return of three players from injuries this week. Eathen Dinwiddie hits the grid for the first time since the preseason scrimmage, while Blade Hancock and Payton Vahle are also returning for the Liberators.
"Getting Eathen Dinwiddie back this week will give our offense a boost and provide depth that we desperately need," Johnson said. "We are excited to see what we look like healthy. Blade Hancock and Payton Vahle back will allow us to see what we look like with all the bullets in the chamber. We will need to make (Marshall) drive and not give up the big play. They thrive off the big play."
Huse's previous experience against Bolivar has him respecting the winning tradition they have.
"While they have different athletes and different coaches, it is still Bolivar," Huse said. "They are always very well coached, play hard and are always a physical football team. Coach Johnson does a great job of getting his kids ready to play and taking advantage of the skill sets he has."
The queen coronation will be at 6:30 p.m. Friday. The game kicks off at 7.
"We have done a good job of turning off the homecoming festivities and really focusing on practice. I'm really proud of how the boys have prepared this week," Johnson said.