By Kary Booher (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
MARSHFIELD — Even though he had every right to, Brooks Espy did his best not to grin as he tried to play the role of dutiful senior. That was OK. A couple of his Marshfield Blue Jays teammates, senior center Zane Henry and junior rusher Daylon Kanengieter, did enough smiling for him.
After all, that’s what happens when an offensive line plows the road all Friday night – and helped to set a trend.
“Now that we’re figuring out how to play together,” Espy said, “it’s just a whole lot better.”
Espy returned the opening kickoff 75 yards to set up a score and an unafraid O-line helped churn out 191 rushing yards – including three Kanengieter touchdown runs – in a 32-7 Marshfield victory against Reeds Spring’s Wolves at R.A. Barr Stadium.
It was the third consecutive win for Marshfield (4-3), which led 13-0 in the first quarter and saw its defense pitch a shutout after Matt Allison’s 62-yard touchdown run pulled the Wolves to within 13-7 with 4:05 left before halftime.
The win also saw a growing storyline – that being the O-line play appears far more sound than back in August, when Henry was the only returning starter up front.
“I’m just really proud of the way our kids are responding in the second half of the season,” said Marshfield coach Cody Bull, whose team was 1-3 at one point. “I’m excited that they are starting to play with passion and really starting to enjoy the game.”
Espy made it enjoyable for Marshfield right off the bat. He took the opening kick from the 10 to the Reed Spring 15-yard line, with a spin move at about the Marshfield 40 helping lead to daylight.
His return helped the Blue Jays bolt to a 13-0 advantage by the 5:49 mark of the first quarter, with Kanengieter scoring four plays later on a 4-yard TD run and then rushing for a 17-yard TD on the next series.
“My guys blocked well,” Espy said, downplaying his effort. “I just followed the blocks. I’ve had a few returns about the same and ran a punt back for a touchdown this season.”
Marshfield took the cue from there, especially its offensive line. It includes Henry, Wyatt Dill, Kyle Tinder, Isaiah Starks, Bobby Maples and Eli Steffen.
While quarterback Brennan Espy was 13 of 17 passing for 108 yards unofficially – and connected with Brooks Espy on a 9-yard TD pass — the blocking opened sizeable holes for the Blue Jays’ main rushers, Kanengieter and senior Zach Cappel.
“Giant holes,” Kanengieter called them. “You could drive a truck through them.”
Said Henry, “We’ve made a lot of progress since the beginning of the season. Tonight, we were communicating throughout the game.”
Reeds Spring coach Lance Gosch all but tipped his hat to the Marshfield line.
“They’re big,” Gosch said. “At times we were overmatched up front.”
The Espy-to-Espy TD connection pushed Marshfield’s advantage to 19-7 with 6:38 left before halftime. The 62-yard drive included a 25-yard pass to Thomas McIllwain. The Blue Jays added second-half TDs on Kanengieter’s 20-yard run and Cappel’s 2-runs run.
It was a tough way to go for Reeds Spring, whose flexbone offense couldn’t muster much against the Blue Jays’ aggressive defense.
The Jays defense, which returned only three starters this season, allowed roughly 100 yards rushing not counting Allison’s 62-yard run.
It also forced five punts and recovered three fumbles (credited to Brett Rogers, Jeremy Graham and Maquire Wilson). The first ended a Wolves drive at the Marshfield 32 with 4:30 left before halftime. The third one fed into Marshfield’s two-play TD drive, Kanengieter’s third TD, with 7:37 left.
“We’ve got two choices,” Gosch said. “You can pout about it or do something about it. So we’ll go to work on Monday and try to get better.”
For Marshfield, Bull hopes his team’s trend continues.
“We’ve got a team that’s got a bunch of upperclassmen, but it wasn’t real rich in experience,” Bull said. “We’ve had guys who had to tighten up on some positions.
“And we played some good teams early. And that was a good team we played tonight,” Bull said. “We’re starting to put some things together, especially defensively. Offensively, we’ve been steady.”