GRAFTON - Having missed qualifying for the West Virginia Class AA playoffs for the first time in seven years, don't expect 2010 state champion Magnolia to just play out the string during Friday night's season finale at Grafton.
''We want to send out our seniors with a win and give the kids coming back something to build on for next year,'' Blue Eagles coach Mark Batton said.
Magnolia will take a record of 4-5 into the contest against the 7-2 record Bearcats, a team that is preparing for a return to postseason play.
''It's been a struggle this year,'' Batton admitted. ''We had some breaks that did not go our way but the kids never quit.
''They played hard again last week against Oak Glen but they made four more big plays than we did.''
The 33-19 setback to the visiting Golden Bears at Alumni Field assured Oak Glen of its postseason berth and sealed the fate of the Blue Eagles just one season after they turned in a spotless 14-0 record to pocket the school's first state crown in football since 1964.
Batton's team scored first on a 31-yard touchdown pass from Tanner Hanna to Jayson Keller, who scored two other times on a night that saw him become the school's all-time leading rusher. However, also finding the end zone on three occasions for Oak Glen was sensational senior quarterback Lucas McDowell with runs of 1, 35 and 35 yards. McDowell also teamed with with speedy classmate Jeff Hissam on an 85-yard pass and run play.
After the Blue Eagles had closed the gap to 27-19 in the fourth quarter, Hissam turned out the lights on Magnolia's playoff dreams by returning the ensuing kickoff 95 yards to paydirt.
Keller rushed for 61 yards giving him 913 on the season and earning praise from Batton over his record-setting career.
''He is an exceptional player and a great all-around young man,'' the Blue Eagles coach said. ''I'm very happy for him.''
A victory tomorrow night would be meaningful in a couple of ways for Batton. Not only would it avoid a losing season for the Blue Eagles, a victory would also be the 100th in his head coaching career.
Further motivation may come fom Magnolia's opportunity to pay back the Bearcats again for a loss in the 2009 Class AA final. The teams met at the end of that regular season when Grafton's hopes for an unbeaten campaign were ended by the Blue Eagles.
''Four weeks later they beat is on the island (Wheeling Island Stadium) in the state championship game,'' Batton pointed out.
The Bearcats will present another challenge to Magnolia's defense as Coah Mark Yoho's team is averaging 26.2 points per game. Grafton's only losses were in a 7-0 upset to Lincoln and by 31-6 to undefeated Class AAA power Bridgeport.
Junior quarterback Ivy Bartlett leads the Bearcats in passing and rushing. His passing totals to date include 58 completions in 101 attempts for 724 yards and six touchdowns. On the ground Batlett has racked up 751 yards on 103 carries, scoring 11 TDs.
Rushing support comes from senior Steven Hunt, 374 yards and three touchdowns along with junior Blake Burnett, 303 yards and four scores.
Bartlett's main target has been receiver Lucas Marshall, who has 23 catches for 330 yards and two touchdowns.
''Grafton's very balanced on offense,'' Batton noted. ''They run a lot out of the spread with zone reads. The quarterback is a nice player who knows how to put points on the board.''
The Bearcats are the fifth playoff-bound team to have played Magnolia this season. In addition to Oak Glen, other teams defeating the Blue Eagles on their way to cementing postseason berths were Monroe Central, Wayne and Williamstown.
Meanwhile, Magnolia's 17-0 victory against River in the Battle of the Bridge cost the long-time rival Pilots their own shot at the playoffs this year.
Despite their under-.500 record, the Blue Eagles have several athletes beside Keller that have put up some solid numbers this season. The junior passing combination of quarterback Hanna and receiver Stephen Rogalski have kept rival defensive coordinators busy putting together game plans trying to minimize their success.
Hanna's passing numbers have been impressive - 115 completions in 188 attempts (.612 percent) for 1,362 yards and13 touchdowns, although he has been picked off nine times. Rogalski has 50 catches for 749 yards and five touchdowns.
''We will practice hard and prepare for Grafton just as if we were getting ready for the playoffs,'' Batton promised. ''That was our main topic of discussion in the locker room after last week's game."