NEW MARTINSVILLE - When long-time Class AA member Magnolia was moved down to the Class A division following the WVSSAC's last reclassification, veteran head coach Mark Batton understood the pressure would be on his Blue Eagles to play for the championship this season.
Especially with the return of standout performers Stephen Rogalski, Tanner Hanna and Kage Rohde.
"We talked to the team before the season about expectations," said Batton. "Everyone in the community had us playing for the state title and we hadn't played a game this season. So, we just wanted to make sure the kids understood that winning a state championship-in any class-is hard and that they were going to have to focus and dedicate themselves during the offseason."
Photo by Jeff Baughan
Magnolia's Kage Rohde looks downfield for blocking against Williamstown during the first round of the West Virginia Class A playoffs.
Other than a one-point, 21-20, loss in their season opener against Linsly, the Blue Eagles have played near-perfect football. Not only did Wetzel Countians knock off perennial Class A powers Williamstown and Wheeling Central during the regular season, but they ended the Yellowjackets season in the first playoff round by a 34-7 score.
"I think a lot of it comes from the disappointment they had over missing the (Class AA) playoffs last year," said Batton. "We try to always set our goals high here and the kids didn't want to have a repeat of last season."
Now, Magnolia finds itself one game away from returning to Wheeling Island Stadium. Standing in its way is a No. 3 Wahama squad (12-0) that has not tasted defeat in 2012 and would like another shot at winning the school's first-ever state title in the sport.
"Wahama is as good as any team we've played. Maybe as good as any team we played last year. They have a great coach in Ed (Cromley) and they will present a whole different set of problems for us this week."
The Blue Eagles' defense was stretched to the limited a week ago against No. 7 East Hardy. But, the defense forced three turnovers-2 interceptions and one fumble-and Hanna rushed for a pair of touchdowns to lead Magnolia to a 19-14 victory.
"East Hardy spread you out all over the field. Wahama isn't going to do that. But, what they will do is pound you the entire game with a very good running attack that features two very good runners in (Kane) Roush and (Zack) Wamsley."
Wahama won't be the only team on the field, however, that can run the football as junior Drew Keller has rushed for 1,302 yards and 12 touchdowns on 236 carries. Also look for Rohde, who has carried the football 117 times for 795 yards and 15 scores, as well as Rogalski (31-294, 4 TD) to be featured in the running game.
"We would like to have some balance on offense, but we will take advantage of what their (Wahama) defense gives us."
Should the White Falcons take away the run, Magnolia's Hanna has shown the ability to beat teams with his arm. The senior signal-caller has completed 112-of-196 attempts for 1,494 yards and 15 touchdowns. His favorite receiver has been Rogalski as the returning (Class AA) all state performer led the Mid-Ohio Valley in catches (58) and yards (813) and scored six touchdowns.
"We obviously look for ways to get the ball into his (Rogalski) hands," said Batton. "But, the key to this game, like every game we play, is for us to take care of the ball on offense and stop the run on defense."
Accomplish those feats and Magnolia will be taking on the winner of No. 1 Tucker County and No. 4 Madonna or the Class A state title.