Magnolia does an about face

Certain images stick.

Take Magnolia football coach Mark Batton for example. Back on Oct. 18, he had just finished shaking hands with the St. Marys coaching staff after the Blue Devils defeated his Blue Eagles 11-9 on a last-second field goal.

As I approached him for the post-game interview, his facial expression displayed a multitude of emotions.

Grown men don’t cry, but inside Batton was hurting. Batton is not the violent type, yet fury was seething.

And understandably so. His Blue Eagles had suffered their fourth defeat by a touchdown or less and were on the verge of elimination from the postseason.

“The St. Marys loss took a few days to get over – that one hurt deep,” Batton said.

An open week the following week could not have occurred at a better time for the Magnolia football program. The players and coaching staff returned to business. Levity existed at practice.

“We went back to practice joking and laughing,” Batton said. “We made football fun like it should be. Our wounds were healed up and it showed last Saturday.”

Facing a Steubenville Catholic outfit which already had clinched a postseason berth in Ohio at 8-1, the Blue Eagles sent a message back in their homestate by winning 24-0 Saturday in Steubenville.

Playing a considerable amount out of the wildcat formation, Magnolia running back Drew Keller rushed for 187 yards on 38 carries and scored three touchdowns.

On defense, all-state linebacker Kage Rohde accounted for three of the Blue Eagles’ six sacks. Steubenville Catholic mustered just 65 yards on 41 rushes.

“That was just a tremendous effort out of our players,” Batton said. “They came into the practice the past couple of weeks very focused, and on Saturday they played their hearts out and put on one heck of a performance.

“That game was won on the line of scrimmage, plus you had a special running back like Drew Keller behind it. It all came together.”

Now at 5-4, Magnolia is on the verge of securing a playoff spot if it can take care of business on senior night Friday against Oak Glen (0-9).

“Oak Glen is a very dangerous team and a physical team – they will give us a dogfight,” Batton said. “We’ve played Oak Glen for too long to know they are not out of it. Their players will come in focused and will play hard.

“We just need to meet that challenge and try to build on what we did last Saturday.”

New Martinsville figures to have a festive atmosphere. At halftime, a dedication ceremony will rename the football field “Bill Stewart Memorial Stadium” in honor of the individual who attended Magnolia High School and later coached at West Virginia University from 2007-10.

Stewart, who died in 2012, will be represented by several family members including his wife, Karen, and son, Blaine.

“Who else deserves this honor other than Bill – he was the kind of football player who represented Magnolia,” Batton said. “He is someone kids can look up to.”

Contact Kerry Patrick at kpatrick@newsandsentinel.com