Updated Sat, Sep 7, 2013 12:57 am
On the date of the Marietta Pioneers’ last win, LeBron James had not yet won an NBA championship, the 2012 Summer Olympics in London were still about six months on the horizon, and Robert Griffin III was still slinging touchdowns for the Baylor Bears. Since Nov. 5, 2011, the Pioneers have lost 11 straight contests by an average score of 40-12 and it hasn’t been pretty, but a new head coach and a lineup stocked with veterans give the Pioneers hope that they can make some noise in the Ohio Athletic Conference in 2013.
However, before the Pioneers get to OAC play, they face a strong road test from the Case Western Reserve Spartans.
The Spartans, members of the University Athletic Association, completed their 2012 season 6-4, but their average margin of defeat was less than three points. Case has dominated the UAA with a 54-10 record, four conference championships, and three NCAA Playoff berths over the last six years.
The Pioneers and Spartans met for the first time in their histories last year, where Case came back from a 10-0 deficit to score 26 straight points to hold off Marietta and secure a 26-23 win.
Each team returns many crucial offensive pieces from their 2012 squads, including running back Kenny Riordan for the Spartans and wide receivers Kirby Harris and Tannon Roberts for the Pioneers. Riordan rushed for a career-high 155 yards and Roberts and Harris combined for 251 yards on 12 receptions in the 2012 contest, leading many to believe that fans can expect a similar game this year.
While many positions remain the same, the Pioneers are hoping that the adjustments they made in the offseason will pay off on Saturday. The entrance of defensive-minded coach Andy Waddle gives the Pioneers and their fans confidence that they can scrounge out a win against the Spartan squad that Marietta almost got the best of in 2012.
Some repairs have been made in the Marietta squad, but Waddle expressed that he’s still looking for guys to step up at the running back and quarterback positions. Favored running back Lucas Hellwig blew out his achilles in the opening stages of fall camp and Waddle simply described the quarterback position as “up in the air” headed into Saturday’s game.
Even if all of the holes were filled, Waddle knows that his task of taking a winless team and instilling the belief that they can win will be a tough one.
“Last year, I won football games,” Waddle said. “I’ve always had the mindset that I’m going to win. I’m a realist and I understand that these guys haven’t had that success, but I do believe that they’re excited and they believe in our staff and our system.”
Waddle went on to give high praise to the Spartans and the consistency of their program and how they won’t beat themselves on game day.
“You always get a great effort from those guys, they’re always extremely well prepared,” Waddle said. “They’re a team that’s not going to beat themselves. They’re extremely disciplined, they’re always in the right position and they’re a team that shows up to play every week.”
Beating a team that doesn’t beat themselves is a hard mountain to climb, but in order to come out of Cleveland with a win on Saturday night, Waddle insisted that winning the field position battle was one of the biggest keys.
“Good field position comes from not turning the ball over, being great on special teams, and creating turnovers,” Waddle said. “If we can do those three things our average field position will be better than theirs.”
Waddle concluded by saying that no matter who wins the field position battle, the attitude of his Pioneers will ultimately determine the outcome.
“We want to see our guys take the field like winners and expect to win.”