Will defense hold the key Friday night when Steubenville Catholic Central and Magnolia put their multi-faceted offenses on display at Alumni Field?
The Crusaders (6-3), still a likely qualifier for the postseason in Ohio despite last week's 21-20 loss to Madonna, feature one of the area's premier quarterbacks in junior Brenton Colabella and a solid running game led by Doug Maslowski.
Coach Mark Batton's Blue Eagles (7-1), eager to nail down home-field advantage in the early rounds of the West Virginia playoffs and still with a shot at an OVAC 3A Division title, have a game-breaking receiver in Stephen Rogalski along with two standout rushing threats in Drew Keller and Kage Rohde.
With both offenses capable of putting a lot of points on the board in a hurry, it is likely the team that plays the best on the defensive side of the football will emerge as the winner.
''We saw Colabella last year and I was really impressed with him," Magnolia Coach Mark Batton said.''You can tell that he put the time in during the offseason to get better. ''You have to get there with two or three people if you want to tackle Maslowski. He's an exceptional athlete."
Last week, Colabella joined the Bellaire rifle Spencer Badia and Beallsville's Terryn Jarrett as the only three Ohio Valley quarterbacks surpassing the 2,000-yard mark so far this season. The three-year Catholic Central starter completed 12 of 23 passes for 132 yards and one touchdown, elevating his passing totals to 129 of 214 for 2,078 yards, 25 TDs and only five picks.
Zach Herrington has been Colabella's main target, having accounted for 37 receptions, 683 yards and 15 scores.
The hard-running Maslowski has crossed the goal line 15 times for the Crusaders while gaining 786 yards on 102 attempts.
Steubenville Catholic coach Steve Daley faces just as many concerns preparing his team to try and slow down the Blue Eagles' ability to run and throw the ball.
'Both their backs run hard and you have to be aware of where Rogalski is on the field at all times,'' Daley said. ''Our offense also has to be ready for what they do defensively. Magnolia sends pressure on every play and they get there quickly.
''Madonna was successful in bringing that kind of pressure and we have to work protection-wise to make sure we give Brenton the opportunity to play his game.''
The Blue Eagles' offense got a huge boost last week when Rohde exploded for five touchdowns in the 46-6 romp against Barnesville. Rohde found the end zone four times on runs of 27, 14, 17 and 1-yard along with his 9-yard scoring reception on a pass thrown by quarterback Tanner Hanna. Rohde carried the ball nines against the Shamrocks but finished with 109 yards.
Keller has been Magnolia's leading ball-toter throughout the season, turning his150 carries into 771 yards and six touchdowns.
Rogalski's 39 receptions have resulted in 625 yards and five scores but you can add on another six touchdowns on runs from scrimmage and defense.
Hanna's passing continues to be a big factor in the Blue Eagles' success. Showing steady improvement throughout the year, Hanna has 69 completions in 130 attempts for 921 yards and eight six-pointers.
Batton is hoping for another fast start, similar to what he saw last week against Barnesville when Magnolia's defense forced a three-and-out, followed by Rohde's 49-yard run the first time he touched the ball.
''I was concerned coming off the bye week, Batton pointed out. ''But the defense did its job and Rohde's five touchdowns really helped."
Should Magnolia defeat the Crusaders, ''Big Blue" could also capture the OVAC title depending on the outcome of the Bellaire-Martins Ferry game that same evening.
Disappointed is the best way to describe Daley's feelings after the Crusaders failed to score in the second half after building a 20-7 lead.
''All three losses came down to maybe one first down here or one stop. Saturday night was the same thing," Daley said. ''I felt we could have done a few things differently. Maybe I got a little cautious. (Ross) Comis did a nice job of leading them on those two long drives in the fourth quarter."