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Blue Eagles Soar

November 10, 2007
By MIKE HUGHES
Magnolia is a team that historically prides itself on a punishing defense.

Wyoming East, making its first trip to New Martinsville, found that out the hard way in a first round West Virginia Class AA playoff tilt Friday night at Alumni Field.

Despite six turnovers, the Blue Eagles’ defense held the No. 11 Warriors (7-4) to 69 yards of total offense in a dominant 26-0 victory.

No. 6 Magnolia advances to the quarterfinal round against No. 3 James Monroe. The Mavericks dispatched of No. 14 Tolsia, 48-6.

‘‘We just got whipped in every phase of the game,’’ Wyoming East coach Kevin Grogg said. ‘‘They just wanted it more.’’

The Warriors appeared to be in good shape early when a strong hit from Cory Willard forced a fumble on the opening kickoff.

Wyoming East had the ball first-and-10 at the Magnolia 29-yard line, but was turned away seven plays later when quarterback Thadd Grogg’s pass sailed high and incomplete.

The Blue Eagles started a drive, marching to the Warriors’ 30-yard line, only to see freshman quarterback Justin Fox intercepted by Blake Cook, who returned the ball to the Magnolia 30.

Again, the Blue Eagles held as Grogg’s fourth-and-16 pass from the 36 was batted down by Jason Utt.

Magnolia proceeded to go on a 10-play, 64-yard march, capped off by a 7-yard run up the middle on a direct snap to running back Steven Zajdowicz with 11:14 showing in the second quarter.

Later in the second, Willard was lined up at his own 10-yard line for a punt, but the snap sailed over his head, giving Magnolia the ball at the 1.

But Zajdowicz was hit as he entered the pile and fumbled on the next play, giving the Warriors back the ball.

After another East punt, Magnolia got its second touchdown on a 28-yard scoring strike from Fox to Jared Blatt with 59 seconds remaining in the half.

That’s pretty much the story of the game for the Blue Eagles.

No matter how many tough situations their offense put them in, the defense found a way to keep the Warriors off the scoreboard.

‘‘Coach (Bob) Ripley works so hard and he put together a great game plan,’’ Magnolia coach Mark Batton said. ‘‘The kids did exactly what he told them and just what a great effort defensively.

‘‘But the one that impressed me the most was the final drive when we kept them from scoring.’’

With the game no longer in doubt, Wyoming East finally put together a sustained drive and burned all three timeouts with less than 30 seconds to go in an attempt to prevent the shutout.

But on first-and-goal from the 2, Thadd Grogg’s sneak attempt was stuffed at the 1 as time expired.

Batton was concerned all week about the Warriors’ advantage along the interior, but it was the smaller, quicker Magnolia defensive line that won the battle of the trenches.

All told, the Blue Eagles recorded 10 tackles for a loss, led by freshman Traeh Keller with three. Keller totaled 10 stops and an interception to lead the defense.

‘‘We knew they were big, but we also felt we were a little quicker,’’ Batton said. ‘‘We were hoping we could use our speed and get some penetration and we were able to do that.

‘‘And I think Traeh Keller spent about as much time in their backfield as their quarterback did.’’

Wyoming East’s run game was thwarted at every step, whether the play selection called for an inside run, or a chance at breaking one to the perimeter.

The Warriors finished with 2 yards rushing, hampered by 38 yards lost on bad punt snaps. But even without those errors, the Warriors managed 40 yards on 29 carries.

This despite three interceptions and three fumble recoveries by the East defense.

‘‘When you get six turnovers and can’t do anything with the ball, that shows you how we played,’’ Coach Grogg said. ‘‘Blocking is a team effort.

‘‘They had it, we didn’t.’’

Zajdowicz, despite a rare case of fumbleitis, finished with 105 yards on 31 carries, including three touchdown runs, the last of which came in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach. He added seven tackles and two assists defensively.

Fox totaled 105 yards on 8 of 14 passing while his counterpart, Thadd Grogg, was 10 of 21 for 67 yards, a large chunk of which came during that final drive.

 
 
 

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