Blue Eagles Knock off Bearcats, 29-24
Magnolia sophomore quarterback Justin Fox had the game of his life against Grafton Nov. 7, throwing for a career high 359 yards and three touchdowns, en route to a 29-24 victory over the heavily favored Bearcats at Magnolia’s Alumni Field.
From the outset, the Magnolia receivers were able to find space in the Bearcats’ secondary as Fox connected with seven different receivers for his 359 yards passing. MHS senior wide receiver Jason Utt caught four aerials for 97 yards; senior receiver Brandon Sprouse caught two for 99 yards.
Also critical to Fox’s aerial attack were sophomore receiver Cameron Benson, who hauled in two passes for 46 yards and two touchdowns, and freshman receiver Derek Fruner, who caught one pass for 55 yards and one touchdown. Jared Blatt, a junior tight end, hauled in one for 40 yards and Stingray Bates caught one for 15 yards. Sophomore Treah Keller caught one for five yards.
Utt returned the opening kickoff to the 44 yard line. From this point, the Eagles moved the ball 30 yards on a draw play by Bates, capped off by a 15-yard tight end screen pass to Benson for a touchdown with only two minutes run off the clock. After the successful conversion kick by Fox, the score stood 7-0 in favor of the home team.
After the ensuing kickoff, Blue Eagle Tyler Hanna sacked the Bearcat quarterback for a four yard loss and the Blue Eagle defense would hold and force them to punt.
Magnolia took over at the 42 yard line and went to the air right off the bat for a nine-yard gain by Utt. Grafton sacked the MHS quarterback for a three yard loss and forcing the Eagles to punt. The punt was blocked and recovered by the Bearcats on the 19 yard line.
After a Keller-Davey Howell QB sack, the Blue Eagle defense held Grafton to a three and out that forced the ‘Cats into a 32 yard field goal.
In the second quarter, both teams punted on their drives. The Bearcats eventually scored on a seven-yard run. And, after the extra point kick went through the uprights, the visitors held on to a 10-7 advantage.
Grafton returned the three-and-out favor, but Eagles Howell and Zach Neff teamed on another quarterback sack that forced Grafton to punt.
This time Magnolia went for the jugular, going deep on a long pass to Benson, who missed the catch. Later, Utt would make a circus catch for a nine yard gain. Fox moved the chains on a keeper, and connected with Fruner a few plays later on a 55 yard bomb that resulted in Fruner’s first-ever varsity TD for a 14-10 Magnolia lead.
After the ensuing kick, Grafton again was forced to punt on another nice stand by the Blue Eagles. After the punt, Bates rushed for positive yardage. But, after Magnolia’s QB got sacked, the Eagles were forced to a third and long situation in which Utt hauled in an unbelievable catch on the Blue Eagle sidelines. However, the ball was ruled out of bounds and Magnolia had to punt once more.
After holding the Bearcats to a third and long, their quarterback eluded the Eagle defensive pressure and made something out of nothing for a Bearcat first down. The Grafton air barrage went for nine more yards to the Eagle six, where a pass into the end zone put the Bearcats back in the driver’s seat, 17-14.
In the next series of plays, Magnolia wide receiver Brandon Sprouse picked off a Grafton pass in the end zone to halt a Grafton TD. A short time later, Howell stopped the Bearcats in the backfield for loss of yardage and forced them to punt from the end zone.
Fox then connected with Benson on a 31-yard pass into the end zone to make the score 20-17. The point after was blocked with 2:30 left to the break.
Sam Shepherd was Johnny on the Spot and made one of his night’s two tackles on the kickoff. Fox threw down the middle and connected with his favorite receiver, Utt, for a 23-yard gainer. With time running out, Fox hurried his troops to the line and spiked the ball, stopping the game clock. With only two clicks on the clock remaining, Fox drilled a 24-yard field goal for a 23-17 half time lead.
Fox was 9-18 for 211 yards in the first half, with 182 of the yards coming in the second period alone. In first-half action, Bates paced the Eagles with 29 yards rushing and Fox followed with 18 yards. Meanwhile, Grafton was held to 75 yards, total.
In the third period, neither team scored, but Grafton dented the scoreboard in the fourth on a five-yard pass play to retake the lead 24-23.
The Bearcats scored 17 of their points on three Blue Eagle turnovers, including two blocked punts and an extra point kick.
The ensuing kickoff went into the end zone for a touchback and the Eagles begin their drive from the 20 yard line. After gaining a first down, the Bearcats forced the Eagles into a third and 22. Fox shook off a couple defenders and heaved a pass some 45 yards away to a Sprouse. He made a fantastic grab for a first down.
Once again the Eagles were looking at long yardage to move the chains. During a long gain by Bates that would have given the Eagles a first down, Magnolia was penalized and had to try again. Fox hit Cody Elliott for a TD, but again a motion penalty pushed the Eagles back. That’s when Fox heaved the ball 50 yards to 6’5” Jared Blatt who, unbelievably, jumped out of the defense for a first and goal from the five yard.
Following a Grafton time out, Fox sneaked it in from a yard out to retake the lead. Later, Grafton drove down the field and a chance to win it, but a Bates knockdown on fourth and long has the Blue on the verge of victory with 3:38 to go.
A second, third and fourth effort by Bates moved the ball seven yards with a moving clock. Bates moved the chains on the next run, and, with a solid effort by the front line, Magnolia gained another first down, and eventually the game.
“That’s the best game we have ever played,” said Utt. “Our underclassmen stepped up and our line has improved so much and did another outstanding job. This has been unforgettable season and we don’t ever want it to end. I will always remember this game for the rest of my life. I’m just glad I was a little part of it”
The Eagles had 450 yards of total offense, while Grafton netted 284. Fox eclipsed 2,000 yards in his career and now ranks second to Aaron Cisar with 577 yards. He has thrown 1,299 yards in 10 games this season.
Defensively, Keller led the way with four solo tackles and 11 assists, while Zach Neff chipped in with four solo tackles, six assists, one tackle for loss of yardage and a quarterback sack The Eagles lost 12 seniors to from last year’s squad that fell to James Monroe in the quarterfinals.
Magnolia will host Point Pleasant Friday at 7:30 p.m. with the winner advancing to the quarterfinals against the winner of Wyoming East-Keyser the follow week.
“We came together as a team,” said MHS Head Coach Mark Batton. “And, with Grafton coming in here 9-0, to beat them like we did leaves me speechless.”