Football: Magnolia Edges Central

NEW MARTINSVILLE – It wasn’t pretty, but Mark Batton isn’t worried about style points anyway.

Magnolia turned the ball over four times, was guilty of 13 penalties for 115 yards and was limited in what it could do offensively, but did just enough in clutch situations. The result was a 17-13 victory against Wheeling Central on Friday night at Alumni Field, in a key West Virginia Class A showdown.

”For a $5 ticket, I think it was pretty well worth it,” Batton said. ”It was who can survive, and thank goodness it was those guys in blue.”

The Eagles (4-1) made their share of mistakes, but the Maroon Knights (2-2) were charged with even more. Wheeling Central threw three interceptions and lost two of its four fumbles.

The difference, as it turns out, was Magnolia was able to do more with its opportunities, scoring 10 points of turnovers in the first half to build a 17-7 lead.

”We just can’t pass up opportunities when they’re given to us, and penalties give them advantages. Turnovers give them advantages,” Knights coach Mike Young said. ”Even as sloppy as we were handling the ball, our kids didn’t quit. It was a gutsy performance to the end.

”Coming out of here 17-13, we’re knowing we had five turnovers and were one play from winning the game.”

Wheeling Central has been challenged in terms of throwing the football this season, so it was no surprise when the Magnolia came out with eight, sometimes nine defenders in the box. Maroon Knights quarterback C.J. Burch took advantage, throwing over top the defense and into the arms of Michael Pleva who took it 40 yards for the opening score.

Three plays later, the Blue Eagles tied it. Playing with a separated shoulder, Magnolia receiver Stephen Rogalski took a short Tanner Hanna pass, made one move and sped 76 yards for the equalizer.

”That’s Stephen. Hats off to him (because) he battled through that and I know he’s hurting,” Batton said. ”He’s a team guy and he knew what it meant to the team.

”When he turned the jets on down our sidelines, wasn’t anyone going to touch him.”

The Maroon Knights’ second turnover set the Blue Eagles up at the 36. Magnolia eventually gambled on fourth-and-9 and it paid off as Hannah rolled left and found Rogalski for 16 yards.

Runs of 14 and 5 from Drew Keller, who gained a team-leading 83 on 24 carries, put the Blue Eagles on the board and a Clemens Raitmayr 31-yard field goal a bit later made it 17-7.

Wheeling Central was back in business right before the half as C.J. Burch, who was limited to 81 yards on 24 carries, broke down the visiting sideline for a gain of 30-plus, only to have it called back.

”We were selling out trying to stop the run and they got loose,” Batton said. ”C.J. Burch is a great player and he found a way to get loose a couple times on us.”

The Blue Eagles seemed to be in control until Joe John stepped in front of a pass intended for Rogalski and raced 22 yards into the end zone with 6:03 left in the third quarter.

”We knew going into the half that we were in the game and that gave us a spark,” Young said.

Wheeling Central let a couple of big opportunities slip through its fingers. With freshman Matt Gruber in at QB, the Knights tried a halfback pass but Burch seemed to have a hard time letting the ball go. Pleva had gotten behind the defense and was interfered with as the ball came in late.

Later in that drive, Burch was intercepted at the Magnolia 15 by Hanna.

With Magnolia trying to run out the clock, Keller came up with a 16-yard bulldozing run on third-and-14 in which he carried three Knights the final 8 yards. The Eagles eventually had to punt and the Maroon Knights took over at their 20 with 9.4 seconds left.

Burch bought time and threw deep to Pleva who outleaped Rogalski – his only defensive snap of the night – for a 40-yard gain, but they both crashed to the ground as time expired.