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Prep football: Wildcat formation alive and well at Magnolia

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. -- Magnolia's fondness for the wildcat formation is rooted deeper than the Blue Eagles' recent run to the Class A playoff semifinals might indicate.

Senior running back Drew Keller ran for 293 yards and four touchdowns Saturday as No. 14 seed Magnolia (8-4) pounded sixth-seeded Moorefield 37-7. Much of Keller's yardage came from running the wildcat, a formation Magnolia also used as the senior ran for 239 yards and three scores in a 42-16 win over No. 3 seed Valley in the first round.

The formation has been fashionable for some teams in the past five years, but cast against a backdrop of Magnolia's heritage - the program has produced a record 10 All-State quarterbacks - Keller's recent success seems somewhat of an oddity.

Magnolia Coach Mark Batton said he has used the tactic in the past.

"In the past few years we've implemented a little part of that. We actually started that with Josh Sims," Batton said.

Sims was Magnolia's quarterback in 2004 and 2005, and he was the Class AA All-State co-captain as a utility player his senior year.

"We'd lost our quarterback and Josh was back there at tailback. We were in the football office drawing things up and thought, 'Just eliminate the quarterback and have the snap go directly to Josh,'" Batton said. "Now he's in his tailback position anyway.

"Back then, we didn't quite have the imagination for the offense than what's going on now with coach (Doc) Chapman, but we thought we could work with Drew back there a little bit."

Keller (5-foot-9, 180 pounds) was an All-State pick at running back in 2012, and has 1,688 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns entering Magnolia's semifinal game at No. 7 seed Greenbrier West (11-1). The teams meet at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.

The Blue Eagles brought the tactic out of the mothballs during their most recent loss, which was at St. Marys on Oct. 18. In four wins since that game, Magnolia has outscored its opposition 157-36.

With a win this week, Magnolia can become the lowest-seeded team to reach the Class A state championship game since Wheeling Central won the state championship as a No. 15 seed in 2005.

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IT HASN'T been too long since Greenbrier West and Magnolia have come face-to-face in the postseason. Magnolia blew out the Cavaliers 41-7 in the 2010 Class AA semifinals in New Martinsville.

As Magnolia has cemented its reputation as a physical, power-running team, Cavaliers Coach Lewis McClung said Sunday that it mirrors what West has always strove for with its program.

"That's our philosophy. We pride ourselves on trying to be a physical team," McClung said. "I just think it's the way you play football. Given the weather in West Virginia at this time of year, if you're a finesse football team you're kind of sometimes at the mercy of the weather."

Greenbrier West eliminated No. 2 seed St. Marys (11-1) in the quarterfinals with an 18-0 road win that saw the Cavaliers benefit from two safeties.

"We have some athletes, but we don't have the kind of athletes that we're going to spread the ball out and do something fancy with it," McClung said. "That's not us, and I don't know that I'm smart enough to coach that anyway."

The Cavaliers are looking for their first Super Six appearance since 1991, when they fell to Spencer in the Class AA championship game at Laidley Field. That year, West beat Magnolia in the semifinals, 6-0.

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WILLIAMSTOWN WILL make its ninth appearance in the Class A semifinals since 2002 when it visits top-seeded Madonna (12-0) on Friday night in Weirton.

The Yellowjackets (10-2) have made their way through the 2013 season with little fanfare, although quarterback Jake Tracewell (6-1, 170) has thrown for 1,383 yards and run for 1,141 more. Tracewell has accounted for 33 touchdowns this season, and helped eliminate No. 13 seed Bishop Donahue (8-4) in the quarterfinals by running for 139 yards and throwing for 121 more.

Madonna Coach Doug Taylor said Williamstown's move to a spread offense this season actually might help his own team better prepare for the semifinal.

"Coach (Terry) Smith and his staff's been around a while, and they know the X-and-O games," Taylor said. "It looks to me that they found an offense that fits that quarterback and it's a little bit different from what people are used to.

"They kind of mirror us a little bit. They run some of the same stuff we do, and they've been very effective. They've got a great offensive line, and they're definitely going to be a challenge for us."

Madonna eliminated 2012 state champion Wahama (10-2) from the postseason in the quarterfinals with a 70-55 win last week.

Contact Preps Editor Derek Taylor at or 304-348-5170. Follow him on Twitter @ItsreallyDT.


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