Dam Breaks; Beavers Escape With 13-10 Win
Since losing to Grafton in last year’s final game, the Magnolia Blue Eagle Football Team has been on a mission to secure its first state title since 1964. After a perfect regular season, the Eagles cranked it up a notch and have beaten Roane County, 57-8 in the opener and shutout Keyser, 9-0 in the semi final to set up the showdown with Bluefield in the semi finals at Alumni Field, Nov. 27.
Magnolia went into the contest winning 12 games in a row and had won 15 straight home playoff games heading into this one. But, the streak ended with a hard-fought 13-10 loss.
The Eagles won the toss and elected to take the ball first. Traeh Keller ran back the opening kick to the five yard line and Stingray Bates followed with a big gainer to move the chains. However, a fumbled snap and a quarterback sack forced the Eagles to punt.
The Beavers took over at the 45 yard line. The Eagles were guilty of pass interference to give the visitors a new set of downs. But, Keller and Zach Neff stuffed the Bluefield running game for a two-yard loss. After a motion penalty that set Bluefield back five yards, Keller was at his old tricks and drilled the Beavers’ runningback for a one yard loss to force a punt.
Eagle Justin Fox hauled in the punt at the Eagles’ 19 yard line. However, the Blue Eagles and the Beavers each exchanged punts until Magnolia threatened from its 31 yard line after a punt. The Eagles’ Jared Blatt caught a Fox pass to give the hosts a new set of downs. Dillon Jackson followed with another first down, but the Eagles’ drive stalled at the Bluefield 14 yard line and Magnolia had to settle for a field goal try. However, the snap was high, but Derek Fruner hauled it in and scrambled to within one yard of a first down and Bluefield took over.
With Bluefield pinned deep in their own territory, the Eagles looked to keep them there and force a punt from the end zone. However, the Big Blue committed its second pass interference to give the guests their second first down of the game and get them out of harm’s way. But, the Eagles defense rose to the occasion and forced another punt, thanks in part to a Davey Howell quarterback sack.
Bates gained 11 yards for the Blue Eagles and Fox added a one-yard plunge to move the sticks. Blatt reached to the moon to pull down a 15-yard pass play and landed on the Beavers’ 20 yard line with 1:50 left in the first half. The drive stalled, however, as a Bluefield defender took the ball out of the arms of a Magnolia runningback to stop another opportunity to score.
With the ball on the 27 yard line, the Eagles’ Neff sacked the Bluefield quarterback for a three-yard loss. On a third and long situation, the Blue Eagles committed an unsportsmanlike penalty to give the guests another set of downs. Sam Shepherd made the last tackle of the half with neither team punching it in.
At the half, Magnolia’s defense limited the guests to five yards rushing and six yards passing, while limiting the six seeded Beavers to three first downs – all of them coming from Magnolia penalties. Meanwhile the Eagles’ ground game churned out only 77 yards, while their passing game was limited to 57 yards that included catches by Blatt for 54 yards.
After the second half kick, the Beaver quarterback was picked off by Cole Mullett, who then lateraled to Jackson to give the hosts the ball at the 26 yard line. Fox escaped the wrath of a Beaver defender and hit Bates on a positive gainer. After three straight runs, the Eagles were held to a 29-yard field goal for the game’s first points. The way the two defenses were running, that looked like it was going to be all she wrote.
Magnolia held Bluefield to a three-and-out and took over at the 25 yard line. But, the Beavers retrained the high powered Big Blue offense to a three-and-out, also, and forced another Magnolia punt.
Fox’s punt bounced near midfield and the Beaver returner bobbled the punt before breaking away for a 58-yard touchdown. The extra point kick barely cleared the uprights and the visitors took the lead at 7-3 with 3:48 left in the third period.
After another three-and-out, Fox pinned Bluefield back to their own 20 yard line. On a second and long, the Beavers used a little trickery. They connected on a double reverse pass for a 34-yard gain and a first down. Bluefield moved the ball to the Blue Eagle 30, where they were facing a third down and two yards to go. However, the Bluefield runningback escaped the hold of several Magnolia defenders and dragged them into the end zone for a touchdown. The kick failed and the Eagles were down 10 with 11:46 remaining in the game.
Fox drove the Blue Eagles down into Beaver territory, but came up short on a fourth and long at the Bluefield 28 yard line.
Many of the usually die-hard Eagle fans started to leave, but the Blue Eagle defense hung in there and the Blue started coming back. A Magnolia tackle forced the Beaver ball carrier to cough up the ball and Magnolia took over with 1:49 to go. A pair of unsportsmanlike penalties against the Beavers had the ball on the guests’ 13 yard line, where Fox hit Blatt with a diving finger-tip catch for a touchdown with 1:09 left in regulation.
However, the squib kick didn’t bounce and the Beavers recovered and ran out the clock.
“This team never gave up and that has been our attitude and that is a reflection of the senior class,” said Magnolia Head Coach Mark Batton. “They battled right to the end. We just didn’t get the bounce we needed at the end on the onside kick.”
Fox was 11-28 for 149 yards and a touchdown, with Blatt hauling in five passes for 95 yards and a touchdown. Cameron Benson caught two passes for 27 yards, while Stephen Rogalski, Bates, Jackson, and Fruner each added one completion.
On the ground, Bates had 17 carries for 46 yards to eclipse Jackson as the top ball carrier in Magnolia history with 2,281 yards. Jackson rushed for 26 yards on 12 carries and ended his career with 2,280 yards. Fox is fourth in career yards passing with 4,172 and third in TD passes with 39.
Magnolia had 13 first downs, while Bluefield moved the chains seven times with five coming off penalties. Traeh Keller finished the night with 15 tackles, including a pair of tackles for loss of yardage. Davey Howell added 13 tackles, including a sack and a tackle for loss of yardage, while Zach Neff followed with a dozen tackles, including a quarterback sack. Matthew Riggs drilled 11 Beaver ball carriers, including one for a loss of yardage, while Cole Mullett silenced 10 Bluefield runners and picked off one.
The Eagles will lose 11 players to graduation in Cole Mullett, Davey Howell, Cody Elliott, Stingray Bates, Seth Pay, Dillon Jackson, Zach Neff, Jake Potts, Drew Schmalz, Andy Huggin,s and Jared Blatt. However, the Blue Eagles have talented underclassmen returning headed by Kennedy Award candidate Justin “Tank” Fox. Other notable returning contributors include, Matt Riggs, Sam Shepherd, Derek Fruner, Cameron Benson, Stephen Rogalski, Drew Simmons, and Jayson and Traeh Keller.