With a dose of positional guesswork and a few major swings in momentum, Marshfield’s 2019 football debut had some thrills, but most importantly resulted in a win.

The visiting Blue Jays rode a wave of good second-half play to a 31-14 victory over McDonald County.

Buoyed big a big evening from his cast of other teammates at skill positions, senior Brennan Espy returned from a summer baseball injury to action. Junior Blake Anderson got his shot behind center early, but Espy, worried during the week that he may not be cleared for action, took the reins for the remainder of the game after the short-lived split. 

“Coach [Cody Bull] told Blake and I that we would split every two series, then he’d decide from there who was performing best and keep them in,” Espy said. “It just put me in a mindset where I really needed to just focus and try my hardest, but we stepped up, made some big plays and got in a rhythm. It feels great [to start 1-0].”

When asked whether the mystery of Espy’s health was put to bed, Bull simply responded, “He looked pretty sharp, didn’t he?”

“He came out and produced. The first two drives, two touchdowns. The guy’s a playmaker. When he gets the ball in his hands, it’s fun to watch him.”

With a number of the team’s tallest options in the receiving game from last year departed, 6-foot-6 tight end Landon Wilson didn’t waste time showing why he could be the favored target in the end zone. He loomed over a smaller defender to snag an eight-yard pass that accounted for the Blue Jays’ first score of the year, that, despite a blocked extra point, gave the visitors a 6-0 lead with 9:11 to go in the second quarter. 

“I knew it was coming fast, so I had to break inside and it was there,” Wilson said. 

McDonald County answered back through senior Jack Teague, who picked up several sizable gains before punching it in and giving the hosts a 7-6 advantage with 3:32 left in the first half. It would be short-lived, however, as the Blue Jays got the ball back before the interval and wasted no time with the opportunity. On their first play, Espy hooked up with Wilson, left uncovered down the right sideline for a 43-yard score. Again, Marshfield failed to tack on anything extra, this time unable to convert a two-point try on a Zach Cappel run, but the swing changed the tempo entering half.

“It’s not if something bad happens, it’s when, and how we’re going to respond to adversity,” Bull said. “Our response is always what’s going to make or break games. They got the same message either way [at half]. I especially wasn’t pleased with the first quarter; we came out kind of flat. I think our guys felt like we should win the game and then didn’t come out with the right intensity. But then we got it going.”

A touchdown-saving tackle by Brooks Espy on the Mustangs' first play of the second half saved Junior Tereik from gaining any more than 49 yards, but Teague followed a fullback block to find paydirt from four yards out several plays later to retake the lead, 14-12.

That was about the last of the adversity Marshfield faced, as the Blue Jays went on to score 17 points unanswered for the game’s remainder. Espy turned from passer into scrambler the next drive, keeping it for a 19-yard gain to cross midfield before he found Thomas McIllwain in the left flat, where McIllwain veered from and down the left sideline for a 30-yard touchdown. This time, Marshfield opted for a pass on the two-point try, but it failed, leaving the Jays leading by four with 7:24 remaining in the third.

Both teams crept deep inside the opposing territory on their next respective drives, but with nothing to show for it. A 16-yard run by Daylon Kanengieter and a 21-yard screen again to McIllwain advanced the ball for the Blue Jays, but solid pass defense on back-to-back plays helped the Mustangs stay within one score. 

Regardless, McDonald County stalled on the following drive, and this time Marshfield turned it into breathing room. The Blue Jays marched swiftly with a 20-yard pass to McIllwain and a pass interference call on a pass intended for Brooks Espy, then farther with a steady dose of the bruising Kanengieter, who bulled it to the Warriors’ seven yard-line. Ready for another inside give to Kanengieter, Espy instead faked the handoff and rolled out, then into the end zone untouched to make it a 10-point game, this time with the score followed by a failed extra point.

Marshfield finally converted an extra point on their fifth touchdown, which arrived thanks to a 55-yard punt return from Brooks Espy with 8:26 left.

Late highlights for the Jays that kept McDonald County at bay included sacks by Ayden Rouse and Brett Orso, as well as another big gain by Wilson. Despite the two early TDs, the late reception by Wilson was the most difficult, as he overcame pass interference with a defender draped on him to still come away with the 30-yard gain as less than four minutes remained. 

“I actually caught it with my leg,” Wilson said. “He pulled me down, and I barely caught it. It was close.”

Wilson was reluctant to concede to the suggestion that he may be the new favored receiver in the red zone.

“It was a team win. Everybody contributed,” said Wilson, reeling off the names of Cappel, Espy and others. “But when you get your name called, you show out.”

A much shorter trip awaits the Jays in Week 2, when they play Monett at R.A. Barr Stadium. The Cubs fell to ranked Mount Vernon in their opener, 22-21, losing on a touchdown and a two-point conversion in the final seconds.

Other Week 1 scores …

Strafford 20, Willow Springs 0: The Indians were held scoreless in the opening quarter before striking for consecutive TDs before halftime, the second of them courtesy of a pick-6. Strafford tacked on another defensive score in the fourth to seal the deal.

Strafford looks to move to 2-0 when they open at home Friday against Mountain Grove.

Lamar 38, Logan-Rogersville 19: The Wildcats managed to keep it closer than last year’s 45-point affair with the Class 2 semifinalists. 

Zach Bergman's 32-yard run put the Wildcats on top early in the first quarter. Lamar answered with a 57-yard rushing score of its own, but L-R took its second lead still in the opening quarter on a 62-yard TD pass from Bergmann to senior wideout AJ Craft.

Lamar recaptured the lead and opened the game up with multiple rushing scores before the Wildcats punched in a late touchdown to trim the margin.

L-R plays its home opener Friday against McDonald County.

 

MORE WEEK 1 RESULTS

Strafford 20, Willow Springs 0: The Indians were held scoreless in the opening quarter before striking for consecutive TDs before halftime, the second of them courtesy of a pick-6. Strafford tacked on another defensive score in the fourth to seal the deal.

Strafford looks to move to 2-0 when they open at home Friday against Mountain Grove.

Lamar 38, Logan-Rogersville 19: The Wildcats managed to keep it closer than last year’s 45-point affair with the Class 2 semifinalists. 

Zach Bergmann's 32-yard run put the Wildcats on top early in the first quarter. Lamar answered with a 57-yard rushing score of its own, but L-R took its second lead still in the opening quarter on a 62-yard TD pass from Bergmann to senior wideout AJ Craft.

Lamar recaptured the lead and opened the game up with multiple rushing scores before the Wildcats punched in a late touchdown courtesy of backup QB Logan Cook to trim the margin.

Bergmann finished 6 for 10 with 73 yards passing. He led the ground attack in both attempts (16) and yards (82) as well. Brooks Wilson added 26 yards rushing, additionally.

Owen Christian led the Wildcats in tackles with 10, followed by nine from Taylor Nelson and seven each by Craft and Bergmann. Cord Quimby and Connor Leighton each recorded a sack, while Riley Williams and Leighton each forced a fumble.

L-R plays its home opener Friday against McDonald County.

Bryan Everson can be followed on Twitter @BryanEversonMF.

Bryan can be followed on Twitter @BryanEversonMF.

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