Blue Eagles face a unique offense when they meet Mavericks
By MIKE HUGHES
The Magnolia defense passed its first postseason test with flying colors, limiting Wyoming East to 69 yards in a 26-0 victory.
Now, with a near 5-hour trip in front of them, the Blue Eagles have a bigger challenge.
Saturday afternoon, Magnolia travels to the southeast corner of the state to take on once-beaten and No. 3-ranked James Monroe at 1:30 p.m. at Lindside.
There, the Blue Eagles will face an offense as effective as it is unique.
If the triple-option attack is an offense rarely used by most teams, the single-wing offense is even less so.
The last time it was used in the National Football League was by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1947 under coach Jock Sutherland.
At the collegiate level, it was used until the 1960s, most famously by the undefeated1950 Princeton Tigers.
And in 2007 at James Monroe, Mavericks coach Dave Whitt has utilized it to the tune of a 40 points per game average.
Only once has James Monroe been held to fewer than 28 points, a 14-7 defeat to No. 1 Bluefield on Oct. 26.
Playing the Mavericks is like taking a trip into the past. Even the position listing on their roster beckons back to days gone by. For all their players, only three different positions are listed: back, end or line.
‘‘They run the single wing and they run it extremely well,’’ Magnolia coach Mark Batton said. ‘‘And what impresses me is how quick their guards and their line are.
‘‘They run a lot of misdirection too and sometimes, it’s hard to find the ball’’
James Monroe employs an unbalanced line and its center direct snaps the ball to a variety of backs, none of whom you’d call an actual quarterback. That’s because generally, no one lines up behind the center.
Taylor Robertson, the team’s leading rusher with 1,588 yards and 27 touchdowns, is the designated passer, but he lines up like every other back in the Mavericks backfield.
Robertson has 305 passing yards and as a team, James Monroe has thrown the ball only 48 times, completing 14 for 385 yards.
Nick Kisiel is the next leading rusher with 760 yards and 10 touchdowns while Ernie Tincher has 629 yards and nine touchdowns. The trio have combined for 2,977 yards and all three average at least 6.7 yards per carry.
It’s an offense that’s tough to defend in general, but if you’ve never seen it, it’s darn near impossible.
And that is where Magnolia’s ace in the hole lies.
Defensive coordinator Bob Ripley, one of the top minds around in scheming to stop an offense, has a good bit of experience with the single-wing.
In fact, during his playing days at Newcomerstown High School in Ohio, Ripley played in the single-wing offense, almost an exact variation of what James Monroe uses.
‘‘Coach Ripley played in that offense at Newcomerstown in the late 1960s, and believe me, I’m glad he’s coordinating our defense,’’ Batton said. ‘‘He said there’s a lot of similarities to what he ran and what they run.’’
But if there’s one team that can slow Whitt’s twisting backfield offense down, it’s the Blue Eagles.
During its nine-game winning streak, Magnolia is allowing seven points per game and fewer than 125 yards of total offense. The teams that have tried to run on the Eagles defense, led by linebackers Traeh Keller, Steven Zajdowicz and David Howell, have failed miserably.
‘‘Our kids need to play to their gaps and keep their eyes out of the backfield,’’ Batton said. ‘‘They can’t pay attention to what’s going on back there, but need to stay home and control their gaps and do their assignment.
‘‘Not getting caught up in all the action and chasing here and there will be crucial.’’
Moving the ball and keeping the Mavericks offense off the field will also be critical, and in that, Batton feels his team has a good chance.
James Monroe does have three shutouts to its credit, but it has also given up a minimum of19 points on four occasions, including 25 to Wyoming East.
‘‘Some teams have been able to move the ball against them,’’ Batton said. ‘‘James Monroe has put up some big numbers, but they have also let other teams put up big numbers against them.
‘‘Teams have been able to run the ball on them.’’
The winner of this game will take on the winner of Friday’s matchup between No. 7 Tyler Consolidated and No. 2 Wayne.
Should both Ohio Valley Athletic Conference teams prevail, expect a packed house at New Martinsville the following weekend.
The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register
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