WOODWARD — Marshall Nieland left. Marshall Nieland right. Marshall Nieland up the middle.
Such was the bill of fare offered to the Martensdale-St. Marys defense last Friday, as the 5-10, 200 pound Woodward-Granger senior carried the ball a whopping 45 times for 307 yards and a pair of touchdowns to help the host Hawks dispel the Blue Devils, 22-8, in Class A District 7 action.
"It has been awhile since we were able to go three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust, but Marshall made it work for us," W-G head coach George Ashman said. "We got good blocking up front most of the night, but most of his runs were in the 5-10 yard range, which tells you how hard he ran."
The Hawks (3-2, 2-1) won their Homecoming game thanks in large part to 388 yards on the ground and a defensive effort that yielded just 50 yards of rushing to the Blue Devils (1-4, 0-3).
M-SM came into the contest as a team that would prefer moving the ball through the air, and while quarterback Connor Dunn passed for 129 yards and a touchdown, the W-G defense prevented big plays and came away with three interceptions.
"I was happy with how we came out and started, especially with all the distractions that can come during Homecoming week," Ashman said. "I wish we would have finished the game better, but it is a win and that is what we need to keep doing — rolling up wins.
"We are not out of the running for a district title and have a real decent shot of hosting at least one playoff game," he added. "We have given up just five touchdowns in five games and we need to keep playing strong defense. Earlham (the Hawks visit the Cardinals tonight, see preview, page 8) is big up front and has a good running back, so we need to get back to work and will need another good effort this Friday."
Tanner Canova applied pressure to Dunn and forced a first quarter interception and 10-yard return by Michael Connor that set up the first Hawk score, which came with just over five minutes left in the period.
Nieland went off left tackle, cut inside an Alex Bodermann block and drove into the end zone for a three-yard score. W-G was going to have Nieland kick the extra point, but an offside penalty moved the ball to the one-yard line, from where Nieland ran across the goal line for an 8-0 lead.
Nieland added a 21-yard TD scamper and the PAT boot for a 15-0 lead early in the second quarter.
M-SM’s Alex Kim took the ensuing kick-off from Nieland and burst through the W-G coverage team. Kim had one man to beat at midfield in order to take the ball all the way, but he was stripped of the pigskin, with Logan Squires recovering the fumble.
The guests held on defense and then started a sharp drive which eventually stalled on downs at the W-G 17 with little time left on the clock before the half.
The Hawks marched crisply up the gridiron, with Nieland carrying most of the load. His 28-yard dash moved the ball to the Blue Devil 22. Two more runs had the ball on the M-SM three, but time expired just before W-G could spike the ball to set up a final play.
M-SM sacked W-G quarterback Cole Ashman and fell on his fumble at the Hawk 27 in the third frame. Dunn immediately found Mitchell Brown for a 27-yard TD strike and then connected with Luke Anctil on the conversion pass to trim the gap to 15-8 with 5:12 on the third quarter clock.
Neither team could make much headway for several minutes, but the guests came up with a big play by blocking a Hawk punt and recovering the ball just 12 yards from the end zone.
M-SM lost three yards on run, with Bodermann snuffing the threat by picking off a Dunn pass and stepping out of bounds at the five-yard line.
What ensued was a time-killing, physical 21-play drive through an obviously tiring defense, with Nieland repeatedly carrying for chunks of 3-5 yards at a time. He kept the drive alive with a short plunge on 4th-and-1 at the M-SM 12, with Connor scoring moments later from a yard out. Nieland’s PAT with 6:07 left in the game capped the scoring.
Connor had 52 yards on 13 rushes to aid the offense with Ashman 3-5-0 for 81 yards. Sophomore Race Brant had all three catches.
Connor and Dylan Nixon had 10 tackles apiece to pace the defense, with Nieland completing his command performance making seven stops and returning an interception five yards.
Brown led the M-SM receivers with 60 yards on four snags, with Anctil adding 39 yards on three catches while Miller Hatcher had five grabs for 33 yards.
Kim was the only Blue Devil aside from Dunn (7 carries for minus-5 yards) to run the ball, finishing with 55 yards on 10 carries.
Dunn and Blake Sweet each had a fumble recovery for M-SM, who made seven tackles for a loss of yardage.