Eagles Complete Undefeated Season With 25-3 Win
The Magnolia Blue Eagles locked up home field advantage throughout the playoffs after knocking off the 2008 Class AA champions Grafton Bearcats, 25-3 Nov. 6 to finish their first 10-0 season since the 1998.
After returning the opening kick, Magnolia went right to work accumulating four straight first downs, the first of which pushed Dillon “Action” Jackson’s career yardage to 2,000.
However, a Blue Eagle fumble gave Grafton possession, and a first down, at their own 15 yard line. The Bearcats continued to move the ball all the way to the Magnolia eight yard line, but were intercepted on a pass into the end zone with 3:42 left in the first period.
Magnolia took over, moving the chains on two positive runs by Jackson and Stingray Bates. But, the drive ended just like the first series, with a fumble that put the Bearcats back in business at the Blue’s 25 yard line.
Grafton drove to the 11 yard line when time expired, but not before the Eagle defense forced the Bearcats to kick a 28-yard field goal and gain a 3-0 lead.
To begin the second frame, Jackson carried the ball to the Magnolia 38 yard line to open the next series. Bates would then run 10 yards to give the Eagles a new set of downs. Later in the drive, Eagle quarterback Justin Fox couldn’t find anyone open and ran for a first down.
Two plays later, Fox found a wide-open Cameron Benson in the end zone, but the pass was dropped. The Eagles went for it on fourth down and Jared Blatt made a nice catch to keep the drive going. On a third and long, Fox connected on a screen pass to Traeh Keller, who ran it to the three yard line.
On the the next play, Bates ran over numerous players to score the go ahead points for a Magnolia 7-3 advantage, after Fox nailed the PAT with 5:15 left in the first half.
On the ensuing kick, the Eagles’ Tim Shreve took down the Bearcat runner at the 16 yard line on a nice open field tackle. On the Bearcats’ first play from scrimmage, the Magnolia’s Cole Mullett met the Grafton runner head on for loss of yardage. The Eagle defense stonewalled the Bearcat drive and forced the first punt of the game.
With the ball on the Bearcat 47 yard line, Magnolia converted a first down on another nice pitch-and-catch from Fox to Blatt with 1:02 left in the second quarter. A couple plays later, Fox connected with Benson for an outstanding catch to give the Eagles their second touchdown of the period.
On the ensuing kick, the hosts started a drive on their own 26 yard line and ended the period on a Davey “Hit Man” quarterback sack. The two teams went into the dressing rooms with the Eagles on top 14-3.
In the first half, Magnolia out-gained the Bearcats 75 yards on the ground, with Jackson leading the way with 53 yards and Bates tacking on another 37 yards. Fox netted 63 yards passing to 38 yards passing for the Bearcats.
The Eagles’ first scoring drive accumulated 62 yards on a 13-play drive that took 6:43 off the clock. Their second scoring drive lasted 3:14 and accumulated 47 yards on seven plays.
Fox booted the second half kick near the end zone and the Eagles’ kick return team tackled the Bearcat ball carrier on the two yard line. Grafton moved out of harm’s way with the help of a Magnolia roughing-the-passer penalty. The Bearcats moved the ball all the way to the Eagles’ 25 yard line, but Howell and Matthew Riggs each added quarterback sacks to force a punt.
Magnolia took over at its own 28 yard and marched the ball down to the 17 yard line. However, the Grafton defense held stern and took over on downs with 5:31 left in the third frame.
Grafton moved the ball to the Eagle 20 yard line with the help of a Magnolia deflected pass that was hauled in by another Bearcat receiver close to the action. Grafton fumbled the snap, but recovered 11 yards back. Magnolia senior linebacker Zach Neff put pressure on the Grafton quarterback and forced an errant throw for an incomplete pass.
Fox, along with Howell, made a nice tackle on a pass play to force a fourth down call. The Bearcats tried a fake punt, but the Eagle front line stymied the fake and repossessed the ball.
Magnolia followed with positive runs by Bates and Jackson to midfield. On a third and long, Fox was intercepted at the four yard line. The pick was probably better than a punt and Grafton took over with 16 seconds remaining in the third period.
Riggs tackled a Bearcat running back for a loss of yardage and Sam Shepherd put pressure on the quarterback. Jayson Keller made a nice defensive play on a pass attempt to halt another Bearcat drive and forced them to punt from the end zone. However, Cole Mullett blocked the punt and the ball rolled out of the end zone for a safety.
Bates returned the kick after the safety to the Grafton 37 yard line. Jackson caught a screen for a nine-yard gain and Bates rambled to the 17 yard line for a first down. But, the Grafton defense stood its ground at the eight yard line and took over on downs.
Neff made the Bearcats pay with a quarterback sack in the end zone for the second straight Magnolia safety to push the score to 18-3 with 8:32 left in regulation.
Jackson ran back the kick quickly 20 yards to the Grafton 21 yard line. Bates pushed ahead 10 yards, but Magnolia was hit with a holding penalty. Jackson gained all but two yards back for an 18-yard gain and Bates capped the short drive for a 13-yard touchdown. That bumped Magnolia’s lead to 25-3 lead after Fox split the uprights with his third PAT.
On the next series, the Eagles’ Neff and Seth Pay teamed for a quarterback sack, while Jared Blatt knocked down a pass to displace the Bearcats all the way back to the 15 yard line.
However, an unsportsmanlike penalty and face mask call against MHS kept Grafton’s drive alive. The Eagle defense bent, but did not break, and the Blue got the ball back.
Magnolia then gained a couple first downs on the drive, but another fumble gave the ball back to Grafton. Pay and Howell each dropped the Bearcat signal-caller for a sack to force a punt. But, Magnolia was penalized on a roughing the kicker penalty late in the game to give the hosts a new set of downs.
On a fourth and long and with 15 seconds remaining in the game, Bates hijacked the football and returned it for a 40-yard touchdown. However, the interception return for the score, was not counted.
Seniors Jackson and Bates paced the Big Blue offense with 84 yards and 77 yards, respectively. They both have now gained more than 2,000 yards in their career.
Fox added 28 yards rushing and tossed 7-13 for 79 yards passing. The leading receiver was Blatt with three catches for 47 yards, while Benson hauled in one for 16 yards and a TD. Traeh Keller caught one pass for 10 yards and Jackson hauled in two others for six yards.
Jackson moved to fourth place in career yardage with 2,080, while Bates moved into fifth place at 2,028.
With Fox’s 79, it gave him 1,000 for the season. His TD pass to Benson was an all-time high 36, nudging him past Aaron Cisar’s 35 for third place for TD tosses. He is behind only behind Todd Morris with 47 and Mark Cisar with 64.
Defensively, Magnolia held the Grafton to 26 yards on the ground and just a little over 100 yards of total offense for the game. Traeh Keller led all tacklers with 12, while Neff snagged 10 and added two tackles for loss of yardage. He also marked up two-and-a-half sacks and a safety. Howell added nine tackles, plus a tackle for loss of yardage, and a pair of quarterback sacks. Riggs and Jackson each tallied eight tackles, with Riggs adding a sack and Jackson a tackle for loss of yardage. In addition, Bates intercepted Grafton on the last play of the game.
Other Blue Eagles with outstanding numbers on defense include Jayson Keller and Cole Mullett with six each. Keller had a sack, while Mullett added a safety. Pay had two sacks, while Sam Shepherd, Jared Blatt and Fox each had five tackles in the victory.
Magnolia will advance to the playoffs with a perfect 10-0 record and will host Roane County on the Eagles’ Alumni Field at 7:30 p.m. Friday.