NEW MARTINSVILLE - Nobody had to explain to Magnolia's Drew Keller the importance of his team's game with Monroe Central on Friday at Alumni Field.
With a 2-3 start - three losses that could have gone either way - there was little margin for error.
"Most teams start the playoffs after Week 10," Keller said. "We know we are in a situation where we have to win every game just to have a chance to make the playoffs. That's the way we are approaching it."
Keller did his part to make sure the Blue Eagles stayed in the playoff picture, rushing for 148 yards on 16 carries including a 1-yard touchdown, returning an interception 40 yards for a score and making himself a general nuisance to the Seminoles in the Blue Eagles' 32-8 victory.
For good measure, he also recovered a fumble in a huge fourth quarter and even broke off a 94-yard non-scoring run that turned out to be big in the scheme of things.
"He's an outstanding back and he did a great job for us (Friday night)," Magnolia coach Mark Batton said. "To be sick (he was battling a stomach bug), he had some game. He was catching a touchdown pass from hitting for the cycle."
It was an early turnover, a fumble recovered by Kyle Ritz at the Seminoles 13, that set off a chain of events that got the Blue Eagles rolling.
Five plays later Keller scored from a yard out to give Magnolia (3-3) a 7-0 lead.
"That is the third game in a row that we have given away an early score," Monroe Central (3-3) coach Jay Circosta, the OVAC's second-winningest coach all-time, said. "You can't give a good team like Magnolia (anything), and we knew how good they were, despite what the record shows."
Not that there wasn't an ample opportunity for the visitors to get back in the game. On several occasions.
Early in the second, Bryan Duffy recovered a Magnolia fumble at the Blue Eagles 45.
Magnolia returned the favor when Grant Cain intercepted a Curtis Nixon pass in the end zone. Instead of downing the ball, Cain opted to run it out, eluding several Seminoles, and returned it only to the 5-yard line.
No problem. Keller simply broke off a 94-yard run and was tracked down at the opposite 1.
"My dad always told me to dive at the pylon of I'm in a situation like that and at the last second, that came to me," Keller said. "I don't know if I was in or not but it was close."
With Keller winded and cramping, quarterback Jacob Brill took it the final yard to give Magnolia a 13-0 halftime lead.
The seminoles defense flipped a switch in the second half, holding Magnolia to negative-10 yards in the third quarter, and got on the board when Nixon hooked up with Duffy on a 23-yard scoring toss, making it 13-8.
The opportunities began to wane in the fourth though, and Brill hooked up with Ritz, who made a diving catch in the back of the end zone with 8:50 remaining, to extend the lead to make it 20-8.
Keller ended it 34 seconds later with a 40-yard interception return for a score.
For good measure, he recovered a Seminoles fumble three plays later to set up Yale Wetzel's 33-yard touchdown run.
The Magnolia defense did yeoman's work on defense, holding Levi Brown (17 carries, 32 yards) and Nixon (10-26) to 58 yards rushing combined and no touchdowns.
"If you can't run the football you are going to have a hard time winning a high school football game," Circosta said. "Levi ran the ball hard, he just didn't have anywhere to run. We'd get a couple of positive plays then we'd have a negative play."
For Magnolia, the game answered the question of what residual effect last week's 27-20, last-minute loss to Wheeling Central would remain.
"I'm proud of the kids for putting that devastating loss behind them to come out and have a good week of practice and then play well," Batton said. "We had to get to .500. We know what position we are in and we know we have to win. There are a lot of points left on the board but at this point, it's about coming out and playing well and winning games."
"We know we can't lose," Keller said. "Every week is a playoff game for us, and that's the way we are approaching it."