When it was officially announced that Magnolia was dropping to Class A this year, the first thing that came to most minds was future matchups with Wheeling Central. That was especially the case as it pertains to football.
Well, that's come to fruition. The Maroon Knights (3-1) and Blue Eagles are set to tangle at 7:30 on Friday night at Alumni Field in New Martinsville.
''I think it's a great thing for the players, the coaches, the schools and the communities,'' Wheeling Central coach Mike Young said. "Magnolia is a very formidable football team that won the Class AA title not long ago.
File Photo by Joe Lovell
Wheeling Central’s Joe John (20) has been one of the many offensice weapons that have stepped up for the Maroon Knights.
"And they've been right there contending for the last five years or so.''
The Blue Eagles are coming off a surprisingly easy 35-21 victory against a quality River team. Magnolia's vaunted pass-catch combination of Tanner Hanna and Stephen Rogalski was held in check (two catches, 19 yards), but the latter, a two-time all-state receiver, carried 10 times for more than 100 yards.
However, Rogalski suffered a first-degree, or moderate, shoulder separation but could play against the Maroon Knights.
"He's a tough kid,'' Blue Eagles coach Mark Batton said.
Magnolia is hardly a one-man team, however. In fact, just last week Kage Rohde came on to rush for more than 100 yards against the Pilots. As Batton explained, the team has four or five legitimate threats who have all made sizeable contributions in the clutch.
"It's a big game and should be a nice playoff atmosphere down here,'' Batton said. "Mike I have been good friends for a long time and we spoke for years about playing, but we were AA and already have four Single-A schools on our schedule.
"Now that we're in Class A, you better find out where you are. And what better way to do that than by playing one of the best teams in the state?''
The Maroon Knights are led into the contest by quarterback-running back C.J. Burch. He's already carried the ball 106 times -35 in last week's 24-14 victory against rival Linsly - for 690 yards and nine touchdowns.
"He's a winner and he hates to lose,'' Young said. "Once again he rose to the challenge.
"He and Parker (Henry) are very good friends, so he knew when Parker went down that he was going to have to step up."
Batton loves what Burch brings to the table, but is equally impressed with the likes of Braxton Nolte and Derek Yocke.
"They will thow the ball, and with Nolte coming out of that backfield, he's a handful,'' Batton said. "Yocke, what an athlete for a kid to play center on offense and then play linebacker on defense.
"(Defensively) they're very aggressive and they are quick up front. Against Linsly, who we played and thought had a nice, big offensive line, they were getting penetration.''
Friday marks the midway point of the prep football season, so this could go a long way in determining seeding for the playoffs.