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Morrison: A Good Call at Magnolia

November 29, 2013
By DAVE MORRISON , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Mark Batton and his Magnolia coaching staff didn't just wake up with a half-baked notion to put all-state running back Drew Keller in the Wildcat formation as some type of last-resort, save-the-season ploy.

Well, not really.

It sure would have been a better story if they had.

Actually, the Wildcat in Magnolia's offense has its origins nearly a decade before, long before Keller was churning out massive chunks of real estate in different parts of the state during its playoff run.

After hitting Charleston and Moorefield, Magnolia will be in Greenbrier County in southern West Virginia, taking on Greenbrier West in Fairlea at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

"We've actually done this for years," Batton said of the Wildcat, completely taking the storyline out of a column writer's hands with one sentence.

"We started in in '04-'05 when Josh Sims, who is now one of my assistants, was our quarterback. So it goes back a ways."

Yes, it does.

Truth be told, Batton and his assistants had tinkered with the idea of bringing back the Wildcat since preseason.

What they didn't know was the effect it would have on the Blue Eagles offense, and the spike in Goody's Headache Powder sales it would cause in villages of its upcoming opponents. The shelves at the 7-11 in Montgomery and the Sheetz in Moorefield were totally empty.

How's this for effective? In four victories since going to the Wildcat on more than 50 percent of the snaps, Keller had rushed for 881 yards and 14 touchdowns. That's a complete season tucked neatly into one third of one.

Condense that down to the playoffs alone and it's 542 yards and seven scores.

On the season Keller had 1,688 yards and 20 touchdowns.

Why the Wildcat? Simple.

First, the season had begun to slip into oblivion after several heartbreaking, late-game losses. At one point, Magnolia was 0-2 and later 2-3 and 4-4. The reasoning was to get the ball in the hands of its all-state back and let him run in space.

The numbers don't lie. Mission accomplished.

It's pretty simple, really. Keller drops back in shotgun formation, takes the snap from center Cole Seckman and, led by pulling guards Carter Seckman and Hunter Brill, as well as lead blocker Kyle Ritz, and he can read his blocks, pick his seams.

Once Keller gets past the first level, he is hard to bring down.

The plays are the same, just run in a different formation. Simplicity that is ingenious.

If timing is everything, this was impeccable.

The first inkling of the change came against St. Marys, in what would end up an 11-9 loss on a last-second field goal. It was also the team's last loss.

With a bye week following that loss, and their very playoff life flashing before their eyes, Batton and the Magnolia staff went full in on the Wildcat.

"We weren't really sure how Drew would accept it," Batton said. "But he really enjoys it. He's been thrilled to death with it, and he has run it well."

Or, as Keller asked after a 152-yard, four-touchdown performance against Oak Glen in the regular-season finale, "who wouldn't want the ball in their hands more often?"

Which brings up a guy like Jacob Brill, the regular quarterback, who has graciously accepted a smaller role, given the success of the Wildcat. Or Kage Rohde, an all-state linebacker who has had some good games at running back himself. Team players.

Given that Brill has thrown for 1,045 yards and 11 touchdowns, with just one interception, I would say we have not seen the last of Blue Eagles' more conventional offense. Rohde's uber important contribution on defense can't be dismissed

Keller's contribution is key in the Wildcat because he is so adept at reading seams and blocks.

However, the line, which includes three sophomores, has grown into the role and the formation as well.

Cole Seckman is the leader at center.

"We take a lot of pride in whatever yards we get on the ground," Seckman said. "We feel like we don't want to let (Keller down)."

Keller is one of them, really, working out with the linemen in the offseason.

The guards are Carter Seckman and Hunter Brill and the tackles are Zach Haught and Brandon Clegg.

"That's one of the reason Drew has racked up all those yards," Batton said. "He does an excellent job of breaking tackles, getting yardage, but he'd be the first to tell you he gets past that first level because those guys up front have really come together as a group. We're proud of that."

OK.

Keller has produced.

The line has blocked.

Guys have accepted their roles.

Perhaps the real key to the whole thing is Ritz. Magnolia fans recognize the name. A casual fan might not.

Pity.

Ritz is the do-it-all, lead blocker, a guy responsible for springing Keller at the first point of attack, or the second. He is seemingly everywhere.

"One play we might have him at tight end, the next at H-back, the next at fullback," Batton said. "We basically feel like we are getting three players in one with all he does. He is the kick-through guy, the run-through guy. He really is the unsung hero of the whole thing.

"It takes everybody working together and that is what has happened."

It's not a Johnny-come-lately offense at Magnolia but it has been Johnny-on-the-spot.

Dave Morrison can be reached via e-mail at: dmorrison@theintelligencer.net

 
 

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