NEW MARTINSVILLE - The one thing that had Mark Batton concerned, other than the numerous formations Magnolia was going to see, was River's physicality. On the first play from scrimmage, the Blue Eagles' Kage Rohde leveled Pilots running back Jordan Sapp in the hole and sent him flying.
''We've talked about it all week - we knew how physical River was and we were going to have to match it,'' Batton said.
Not only did Magnolia match, but it exceeded River in that department Friday night in a 35-21 victory at Alumni Field.
Magnolia’s Drew Keller is stuffed on the goal line on fourth down by the River defense
Friday in New
''That's a picture-perfect tackle,'' Batton said of the Rohde hit. ''That's kissing the ball, as we say.
''(Sapp) got some lift off that and Kage was off the ground. These guys take pride in that.''
That wasn't the only time Rhode made his presence felt. No, he also had a hand in things offensively.
With a normally potent passing attack being stymied, the Blue Eagles went to the ground game 47 times, with Rohde churning his way to 102 yards and a pair of touchdowns on runs of 6 and 43 yards.
''I thought Kage Rohde ran possessed,'' Batton said. ''He wasn't going to be denied that end zone.''
The Blue Eagles (3-1) jumped on top early as Drew Keller (19 carries, 63 yards) finished a 36-yard drive, which was the result of a bad punt, with a 5-yard run.
The Pilots caught the Magnolia secondary napping when Cody Caldwell found a streaking Kam Brown (three catches, 93 yards) down the sideline for a 61-yard touchdown strike with 10:51 left in the first half. Momentum, it seemed, had changed sides.
Except that Rohde took the ensuing kickoff at his 20 and raced to the River 3 before finally being hauled down. Keller scored his second touchdown, this one a 2-yarder, two plays later.
A three-and-out by River and subsequent punt was the catalyst for a 66-yard drive, but that march stalled as the Pilots turned the Blue Eagles away four times from inside the 3. Four plays later, however, the Pilots (2-2) fumbled the ball for the second time in the half.
That led to Rohde's first score and a 21-7 Magnolia halftime advantage.
''They took us completely out of our game plan when we've got to play catch up like that or start our throwing game,'' River coach Mike Flannery said. ''We felt coming in, like we have every year, that we could play a little smashmouth with them and run the ball.
''They shut us down. It just baffles me why, and I will find that out when we watch the film.''
River didn't go quietly, though. The Pilots raced in to block a punt and put the ball in play at the Magnolia 34, and five plays later were in the end zone courtesy of a 17-yard run on fourth-and-4 by Nick Asturi (13 carries, 64 yards).
Caldwell stepped in front of a Tanner Hanna pass on the next Blue Eagles possession, but the Pilots couldn't capitalize. Rohde made them pay when he busted up the gut from the 43 - the third Magnolia touchdown within the final minute of a quarter, to make it 28-14.
It was still a winnable game for the Pilots until they made a fateful mistake - punting to two-time all-state Magnolia receiver Stephen Rogalski.
''The punt return killed us,'' Flannery said. ''We sure weren't planning on punting him the ball - we didn't all week.''
Rogalski gathered the ball in, sped to the right and outraced several Pilots 77 yards to the end zone for his second punt return for a score in as many weeks. He only caught two passes for 19 yards, but carried 11 times for 116 yards.
''Coach (Dave) Chapman talked about that Sunday in our meetings - we've got to get the ball in Stephen's hands in case we can't throw it,'' Batton said. '' Their secondary was pretty good and didn't give us much time inside.
''We worked with him on those sweeps and as soon as he broke a couple of those, they had to loosen up. The moment they did, now you can run some draws with Drew and Kage up inside.''
The Pilots closed the scoring when Sapp broke free for a 70-yard score with less than four minutes remaining.
''I'll give them credit. Everything they did, they worked for,'' Flannery said. ''I don't have anything profound to say. They kicked our butts and it is what it is.
''You've got to take care of the football and when you don't, bad things happen.''