Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Marsch finds comfort zone with Rifles

After one season with Bisons, QB's back in junior with title in his sights

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Ryan Marsch feels comfortable in green, red and white.

The Canadian Junior Football League's Offensive Player of the Year in 2011 has traded in his University of Manitoba uniform for his old Winnipeg Rifles jersey. It was while wearing those colours, Marsch received the nod as top offensive player, setting a passing record with 3,030 yards and tied the record with 31 touchdown passes.

But Marsch, who is in his final year of eligibility in the CJFL, still needs to check one more item off his list -- a championship.

"Everyone is excited about putting up numbers, winning games and hopefully getting that national championship. So I'm right at home here," Marsch said of returning to the Rifles. "It feels a lot better. I feel more at home being the team captain and leader. I'm in my zone, and this is what I do."

The decision to leave the Bisons football program and return to junior was an easy one. Marsch was returning to a team he was familiar with and to a league where he could produce points. Marsch might not have had the same opportunity with the Bisons.

"I wanted to do as much as I possibly could in my junior career," Marsch said. "Being with the Bisons would have meant being unsure of what to expect at the quarterback position. I didn't really want to pass up this opportunity. It came down to whether I wanted to take the opportunity at junior, or take the risk of going to the Bisons and possibly not starting, or possibly not liking what you're doing in school. This was more of a personal decision."

Marsch went 21 of 35 for 219 yards and two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing) in a 32-20 loss to the Saskatoon Hilltops to open the CJFL regular season. The Hilltops are seeking a fourth consecutive national championship.

Marsch and his offence won the possession battle and picked up 435 yards of net offence. The Rifles were consistently in Hilltop territory throughout the game, but struggled to put touchdowns on the board.

"I actually put that mainly on my shoulders. If we can march all the way down the field but not convert, that's a big reflection on me. I need to kind of get back into game mode," Marsch admitted.

The loss was Marsch's first start behind centre in well over a year. His time with the Bisons limited his number of snaps, but that hasn't intimidated Marsch. He plans to perform much like he did in the 2011 season.

"I don't think it'll take me too long to get back into the swing of things. That was the first game I started in a while, but I think this weekend is going to be pretty successful," he said.

The Rifles play their home opener against the 1-0 Edmonton Huskies Sunday at noon. The game will be at the new home of the Rifles, Investors Group Field, and Marsch "fully plans" on being a member of the first home team to pick up a victory in the new stadium.

Rifles head coach Ryan Karhut expects a whole different challenge from the Huskies Sunday, compared to their game with the Hilltops.

"They're a pretty fast and tenacious group. When watching the film, their defence gets after you pretty good," Karhut said. "They fly around and every time they make a tackle there's usually four or five of their helmets around the ball."

Marsch is expecting lots of pressure while he's in the pocket, but that could work in his favour.

"That makes them a boom or bust team. They're either going to get you with the pressure and disrupt plays or they're going to allow big plays to happen behind them," he said.

Rifles running back Devon Cox will assist on the offensive side of the ball. His 166 yards on 28 carries in Saskatoon, plus Marsch's proven track record in the CJFL, means the Rifles have a balanced attack that can keep defences guessing.

"Any time you can give a guy 20 carries and he keeps getting better and better, that's a good sign as you move forward," Karhut said.

kyle.jahns@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 23, 2013 C6

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