STEUBENVILLE - Magnolia's West Virginia Class A playoff hopes are alive and well thanks to a punishing ground attack and a smothering defense.
The Blue Eagles offense, powered by senior Drew Keller, compiled 232 rushing yards at rainy Harding Stadium on Saturday night while the defense completely shut down Steubenville Catholic's potent attack. The result: Magnolia left town with a 24-0 victory.
"That was just a tremendous effort out of our coaching staff and especially those players," Magnolia coach Mark Batton said. "We felt we had to control the ball. Central has their high-powered offense and we figured we had to hold on to the ball."
Magnolia’s Drew Keller makes his way to the end zone Saturday night.
Batton's club, 5-4, entered the week rated 18th in the Class A computer poll. The top 16 squads reach the postseason. Magnolia will close with a home game against Oak Glen Friday.
Steubenville Catholic completes its regular season at 8-2 and will play host to a Division VII, Region 25 playoff contest. The Crusaders are expected to entertain Racine Southern out of Meigs County this Saturday.
Keller, who stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 180 pounds, carried 38 times for 187 yards and three touchdowns. Most of his carries came out of the Wildcat formation. Keller had scoring runs of 1, 42 and 5.
"What a job he did," Batton said of Keller. "He'll be the first to tell you that it was the guys up front that made all that possible. There are three sophomores on our line that played really well."
As far as Steubenville Catholic's Steve Daley is concerned, Keller did what "he needed to do, picking up chunks of yardage for them."
"We saw the Wildcat on film but not as much as they showed (Saturday)," Daley stated. "We had to do a better job of realizing he was back there in that formation to have the ball in his hands. He is a physical runner, a downhill runner."
The Magnolia defense held the Crusaders to 65 yards on 41 snaps. The shutout was the second straight for the Blue Eagles against Steubenville Catholic (the 2012 contest resulted in a 35-0 Eagles victory). Daley's club had nine possessions. Six resulted in punts, two produced interceptions and one led to a turnover on downs.
Brenton Colabella, Steubenville Catholic's outstanding senior quarterback, was sacked six times. Kage Rohde was credited with three of them.
"That's a great defensive effort," Batton said. "The defensive staff game planned perfectly. All the guys stood their ground. Our stunts got through. Rohde did a great job putting pressure on and our secondary was excellent.
"Those picks were plays where our guys covered the receivers well, like they did the whole game."
"We saw them on film and were able to see how they send their pressure packages," Daley said. "We had a blocking adjustment for it. It's man-on-man at that point. When they are bringing guys wide off the edge like they did, we need to go back and take a look at that and fix some things."
After two sacks and a holding penalty thwarted Steubenville Catholic's first possession, Magnolia marched 52 yards for its initial score. Keller, running behind sophomore Kyle Ritz (6-1, 215) collected 40 of the yards and crossed the goal on a 1-yard plunge. Ritz, who is listed as a tight end, spent most of the night as the Blue Eagle fullback.
Eric Smith's interception led to Magnolia's second touchdown. This time, quarterback Jacob Brill plowed in from 5 yards away. Keller made it 18-0 when he motored 42 yards, the run coming one snap after Ritz picked off Colabella.
Keller's final score came in the fourth quarter.
"That was a bunch of guys that went out, played their hearts out and beat a great Steubenville Catholic squad on the road," Batton continued. "I'm as proud as I can be for those players and what they did."
Brill contributed 25 yards to the Magnolia ground attack. He had one completion (Keller made the grab) for 4 yards. The Eagles ran 53 plays compared to 41 for the Crusaders.
"They're a good football team" Daley said of Magnolia. "Look at their four losses, they were all close and to very good teams. St. Marys, Williamstown, Wheeling Central and Linsly, those are good teams. We knew that coming in. They have a lot of guys back and they are a very physical team.
"I feel like I didn't have us mentally prepared. Coming into this week and through our practices, something was amiss and that goes back on me. I didn't have us focused in on where we needed to be."