Eagles: Simply The Best
Magnolia keyed on four first-half touchdowns from Jayson Keller and Justin “Tank” Fox and six forced turnovers to oust the top-seeded Ravenswood Red Devils, 28-13, from the Class-AA State Football Championship Dec. 3 at Wheeling Island Stadium. It was the Blue Eagles’ second such title.
Keller had accumulated 110 yards in the first half before being carried off the field because of a knee injury in the second period that grounded him for the duration. “Jayson is going to be okay, but we wanted to win this for him, Coach Ripley, and everybody in the past who has played at Magnolia,” said brother Traeh.
“I’m just so proud and so happy for these guys here,” said Head Coach Mark Batton. “We have been through a lot of disappointment over the years and this is just unbelievable,”
Kennedy Award candidate Fox added, “It feels great, the greatest feeling I’ve had in my life, I can’t even describe it. The first half we came out really strong. We said since the beginning, this was our year. I didn’t want to end my season with a loss and my team dug down and we came out of it and put it to them.”
The Eagles won the toss and elected to receive the opening kick. Brendan Kacor returned the ball to Magnolia’s 30 yard line. After a six-yard scamper by Jayson Keller, led by a Seth Findling block, he motored all the way to the 10 yard line before losing the ball out of bounds on a nice play by a Devil defender.
After a short gainer, Jayson Keller would taste the end zone for a three-yard TD to cap a four-play, 70-yard drive that took only 1:57 off the clock. After the Fox PAT, Magnolia led 7-0.
Ravenswood ran back the ensuing kick to the 31 yard line. On the Devils’ first offensive attempt from scrimmage, they faked a hand-off, trying to catch Fox napping. But, Fox stepped in front of a Red Devil pass and ran the ball to the 31 yard line. After a one-yard loss on first down, Fox went to the air, only to be intercepted by the Ravenswood defense.
On Ravenswood’s next possession, Eagle Traeh Keller wasted little time on a nice eight-yard quarterback sack. After a three-yard Devil quarterback run, Fox batted away a pass and forced a punt. The Red Devil punter mishandled the snap and Mark Winters and Cameron Benson were right there to recover for the Eagles at the 19 yard line.
On the first snap, Jayson Keller waltzed into the end zone, untouched, for his second touchdown to give the Eagles a 14-0 lead after the Fox extra point kick.
Ravenswood returned the ensuing kick to their own 35 yard line and then gained another nine yards. After shrugging off a Matthew Riggs tackle attempt in the Red Devil backfield, Ravenswood got a first down.
Traeh Keller bore down for his second sack of the quarter, costing Ravenswood five yards. After an incomplete pass, Eagle defender Tim Shreve stood tall and broke up a Devil reverse for another five-yard loss, forcing a punt. Magnolia took over at its own 21 yard line after the punt.
Magnolia linemen Dillon Simmons and Matthew Riggs opened a huge hole for Jayson Keller to gain 13 yards. After a two-yard loss, Magnolia was guilty of an infraction that pushed the ball back to the 17 yard line. After a Fox-to-Stephen Rogalski pass got the good guys back to the original line of scrimmage, Fox misfired on a roll out and was forced to punt for the first time, with 2:31 left in the opening period.
The Fox punt appeared to be rolling dead when the Devil punt returner grabbed it and ran out of bounds before being hit. After two straight minimal gains, the Eagles front line, led by Riggs and Justin Wade, met the next Devil ball carrier for no gain. But, instead of punting on fourth down, Ravenswood went for it and picked up a first down that ended the first period of play.
In the second frame, Riggs missed another tackle in the Devil backfield, but teammate Sam Shepherd was right at the line to stop the Devils for no gain. Tanner Fluharty blitzed and forced a fumble, but Ravenswood recovered. However, the Eagles’ Timmy Shreve then applied his own blitz and took down the Ravenswood quarterback for a sack and forced a punt. Benson went for the block and was pushed into the punter by a Devil player, causing a personal foul that gave Ravenswood a new set of downs. Kacor had returned the punt for big yardage, but it was all for naught.
After a three-yard gainer, Ravenswood was guilty of a motion penalty, but Riggs got a little too friendly and was called for a personal foul. That gave the Devils another new set of downs. Fox then batted away a pass by the Ravenswood quarterback. Since the Devils couldn’t go deep against Fox, they went short and completed it. But Rogalski scared the receiver, who went the other way, but was still taken down by a Rogalski tackle.
At this point, Ravenswood couldn’t pass long or short, so they tried to run it down the middle, where nose tackle Matt Riggs greeted the runner with a tackle that registered on the Richter Scale. That caused a fumble that Sam Shepherd recovered at midfield.
On the first play, Jayson Keller lost six yards on a nice defensive play by Ravenswood. Then, however, Findling opened a way for Kacor to make a first down. Simmons cleared the way for Jayson Keller and a new set of downs. Keller pushed the ball to the nine yard line, whereupon he was hurt and fumbled. However, teammate Bentley Knight recovered.
Kacor took the pitch on an end-around to the three yard line. Traeh Keller got Magnolia fans roaring with a run that made it first and goal at the one yard line. After a two-yard loss, Fox would sneak it in for a 21-0 Magnolia lead after the true extra point.
The ensuing kick to Ravenswood went out of bounds. With 3:10 left until halftime, the Red Devils converted a pass that hit the turf for a nine-yard gain. And, after a pair of misfires, the Devils would convert on their second straight fourth-down plays. The combination of Riggs and Findling pressured the Ravenswood quarterback on two straight incompletions. On his next attempt, the Devil quarterback was picked off by Benson.
The Eagles couldn’t take advantage and were later forced to punt. However, Ravenswood used a pair of time outs to try to make some noise before heading into the locker room. With 38 second remaining in the first half, the Devils incurred a penalty that backed them up five yards. On the next play, Fox intercepted the Ravenswood quarterback and ran it back for his second touchdown and the fourth Ravenswood turnover. That put Magnolia up 28-0 going into the break.
“We wanted to come out and play fast and hard like that,” said Batton. “But, that first run by Jayson set the tone. You never know what to expect. We didn’t know if we were going to have to come out and throw, but things just rolled for us in the first half.”
In the third period, Ravenswood would score a touchdown against a Magnolia defense that hasn’t allowed a third-period score all season. The Devils would add another TD in the fourth period to cut its deficit before Magnolia closed the deal.
Fox was selected MVP of the game. He was 10-13 for 103 yards through the air and ran for seven yards and scored a pair of touchdowns. Rogalski, Benson, and Kyle Elliott each accumulated 30 yards through the air, while Kacor netted 11 yards.
In the rushing department, Jayson Keller gained 110 yards on 12 carries and scored two touchdowns in two periods. Shreve accounted for 30 yards, while Traeh Keller and Kacor netted 18 and 17 yards, respectively.
Defensively, the Eagles had six take-aways, led by Sam Shepherd with 14 stops that included a loss of yardage and a fumble recovery. Mark Winters added a dozen tackles, including two for loss of yardage. Traeh Keller, Matthew Riggs, and Tanner Fluharty each dropped 11 Red Devils, that included a tackle for loss of yardage and a quarterback sack. Fox had a pair of interceptions, while Benson, Rogalski, and Kacor each hauled in one Ravenswood pass.
“This is unbelievable,” exclaimed Traeh Keller. “I am the happiest man in the world. But, I wished I could have played better in the second half, but I am happy with the state championship. Win or lose, I would have been satisfied with my teammates to the end. I wouldn’t want to play with a better group of guys.”
“When (the 17 seniors) came in as freshmen,” Batton reminisced, “you could see it in their eyes. They practiced hard and always jumped in there on the scout team. They are leaders and these younger kids look up to these guys like I’ve never seen before. They are good kids and they do things right. That is something you can’t teach and can’t coach. I hope (Magnolia is on the map). You always get talked about in the top five or top 10, but we won one and our name and our picture will go right up there on the wall in the WVSSAC office, and I guarantee, I will be stopping in and looking at it.”
The Eagles will lose 18 seniors including Magnolia’s all-time leading quarterback, Justin Fox. Also graduating will be Traeh Keller, Matthew Riggs, Tanner Fluharty, Dillon Simmons, Justin Wade, Derek Fruner, Timmy Shreve, Tanner Martin, Cameron Benson, Ryan Richmond, Jesse Glow, Sam Shepherd, Ryan Ritchea, Seth Findling, Leif Lallathin, and Charlie Thomas.
However, the cupboard isn’t completely bare, as Jayson Keller, Kage Rhode, Billy O’Neil, Stephen Rogalski, Bentley Knight, Nick Blatt, and Mark Winters will return to the lineup where they saw significant playing time.