NEW MARTINSVILLE - Already six weeks into the season, games start to get bigger and the outcome becomes more and more important.
That is the case for both Magnolia (2-3) and Monroe Central (3-2) Friday night when Coach Jay Circosta takes his Seminoles across the river for a showdown with the Blue Eagles at Alumni Field.
Don't be fooled by the current losing record for coach Mark Batton's squad. The Blue Eagles have been on the other side of three gut-wrenching losses to Linsly, Williamstown and Wheeling Central. Maybe none tougher than last Saturday's 27-20 setback to the Maroon Knights.
Lining up to attempt a 32-yard, game-winning field goal with 4.1 seconds to play, Magnolia watched Central not only block it, but return it for a touchdown to seal the deal.
"That game was just devastating for us; the kids really played their hearts out," Batton said. "But it just didn't work out in our favor. However, these are resilient kids and they will bounce back. They know their backs are against the wall now.
"There is no question we have to win every game. Every game is a playoff game from here on out. They are all must wins if you want to get an 11th game."
Add to that the fact that Monroe Central is on the complete other side of things, having won three in a row after dropping its first two games, and coming off a 48-20 victory against previously unbeaten Fort Frye last Friday.
The Seminoles twice rallied from seven-point deficits in the first quarter before outscoring the Cadets by a 34-6 margin during the final three quarters.
Monroe Central showed again that it can get the job done on the ground or through the air, but that it really likes to run the football. Led by senior quarterback Curtis Nixon (13-191-2td) and junior back Levi Brown (17-165-3td), the Seminoles racked up a total of 364 yards on the ground last week.
Nixon also completed 10 passes for 100 yards and two more scores with Zach Jorris and Jake Schuerman both grabbing scoring strikes.
"We have played them for some time so we are pretty familiar with them," Batton added. "With Coach Circosta, you know they want to live by the running game. Nixon was a very good running back and it was an excellent move putting him at quarterback.
"He has been real impressive and is a big-time, two-way threat. As a team they are also very improved and have got things going their way the last couple of weeks."
During its current three-game winning streak, Circosta's group has really come together on both sides, averaging 48 points a contest while allowing 41 points during the run. In its first two games of the campaign, the Seminoles scored 16 points while giving up 49.
"We started out slow, and it is tough to be 0-2," Circosta said. "But the kids have really bounced back, and I am very proud of them. After the second game, we made a couple of changes that have really been paying dividends for us.
"But there is definitely still room for improvement and mistakes we can correct. Our last two games we have handed our opponents the opportunity to score early and have had to come back. All things considered I believe we are heading in the right direction."
For Magnolia, finding a cure for its run defense may be at the top of the list of things to do this week as it allowed 261 yards on the ground to the Knights last week.
The Eagles have some weapons of their own with seniors Drew Keller, Jacob Brill and Kage Rohde all capable of churning out yards. Keller rushed for 117 yards a score last week while Brill, the team's quarterback, added 65 and a touchdown.
Brill was also efficient through the air with 152 yards on a 6-of-8 showing. Classmate Eric Smith had four grabs for 105 yards.
"Magnolia is a very good football team," Circosta said. "In looking at our schedule, I would put them right up there with Shadyside and we all know how good they are."
The teams have split the last two games in the series with Magnolia picking up a 35-15 victory last year in Woodsfield and Monroe Central grabbing a 40-24 verdict in its last trip to New Martinsville.