NEW MARTINSVILLE, W.Va. — After acquiring a pair of playoff victories at Point Pleasant High School over No. 14 Buffalo and sixth-seeded Greenbrier West, Wahama coach Ed Cromley and his Wahama White Falcons take to the road Saturday for a Class A semifinal collision against second-ranked Magnolia with a journey to Wheeling Island Stadium and the Class A finals on the line.
Third-ranked Wahama will be making its third Final Four appearance in as many years following successive White Falcon conquests over Buffalo (38-0) and Greenbrier West (21-12). Cromley’s red and white gridders will carry an unbeaten 12-0 slate into the affair Magnolia who will carry an 11-1 mark into the Final Four gathering. The Blue Eagles defeated No. 15 Williamstown 34-7 and seventh-seeded East Hardy by a 19-14 margin to advance to the state semifinal.
Magnolia, despite competing as a successful Class AA team for a number of years, dropped into the Class A ranks this year and has been the odds on favorite to capture this year’s Class A title. The Blue Eagles won the Class AA state championship just two seasons ago with a 28-13 win over Ravenswood in addition to claiming the Class AA crown in 1964. Magnolia was the Class AA state runner-up five times (1972, 1981, 1992, 1993 and 2008).
Veteran Coach Mark Batton has compiled an impressive 111-49 record over the past 14 years at the New Martinsville school, and despite dropping its first game of the regular season, has embarked on an 11-game winning streak.
The Blue Eagles lost a one-point, 21-20, season opening setback to Linsly Prep before beginning its playoff run with nine straight regular season wins. Beginning with a triumph over perennial playoff participant Williamstown (24-7), Magnolia sailed through the remainder of the regular season with only returning Class A champion Wheeling Central posing a threat.
Victories over Tyler Consolidated (41-13); River (35-21); Wheeling Central (17-13); Monroe Central (35-15); Class AA Weir (51-12); Barnesville (46-6); Catholic Central (35-0) and Class AA Oak Glen (48-13) followed prior to successive playoff wins over Williamstown and East Hardy.
After posting a 14-0 state championship season in 2010, Magnolia suffered through somewhat of a down year in 2011 with an uncharacteristic 5-5 record. The Blue Eagles lost only five starters from a year ago which affords the Wetzel County team a wealth of experience returning for the current campaign. Three of the five starting offensive linemen are back as well as two-time first team all-state wide receiver Stephan Rogalski and returning quarterback Tanner Hanna.
Heading the list of returnees along the interior line include senior guards Jared Wright (5-9, 190) and Sam Shreve (6-0, 190) along with junior tackle Cole Seckman (6-1, 290). Seckman started at center last year and moves to tackle this season with junior Logan Wright (5-8, 201) taking over the snapping duties. Senior Robert Walker (6-1, 190) figures to get the call at the remaining tackle position with junior Brandon Clegg (6-4, 240) also figuring in the mix of front line players.
Naturally, the speedy Rogalski (5-11, 170), a runner-up in the 200 and 400 meter dash at last year’s state track meet as a junior, anchors the wide receiver corps after catching 59 passes for 898 yards and six touchdowns during the 2011 season. Senior Gage Deem (5-11, 165) is another favorite target of Hanna along with senior Ryan Walton (6-0, 180), freshman Kyle Ritz (6-0, 190) and freshman Todd Lemasters (6-1, 135).
A star-studded backfield features senior returning signal caller Tanner Hanna (6-1, 165) directing the offense who experienced a banner year in 2011 despite the 5-5 record with 1587 yards passing and 15 touchdowns. Junior Drew Keller (5-10, 185) is the Blue Eagles leading ground gainer with junior Kage Rohde (5-9, 180) providing the Blue Eagles with another significant weapon in the Magnolia offense.
During its playoff win over Williamstown, Hanna tossed three touchdown passes in the opening half alone while Keller ran for 201 yards and Rogalski returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a score.
In the win over East Hardy, it was the Magnolia defense that drew the accolades by limiting the high powered Cougar offense to just two touchdowns after East Hardy put up 60 points against defending Class A champion Wheeling Central in the opening round of the playoffs.
Wahama realizes that each and every week in the postseason the task at hand gets a little tougher and this week figures to be another stiff but attainable assignment. The Bend Area team has elevated its game in each of the past two weeks while advancing to the Final Four.
Wahama enjoyed a nearly flawless outing against Buffalo before coming up with enough big plays both offensively and defensively to turn back a talented Greenbrier West squad.
The Bend Area team has improved its playoff record to 15-12 under the direction of veteran football Coach Ed Cromley and is 7-2 during its last nine postseason outings. Wahama has won eight straight playoff games it has hosted while falling to Wheeling Central in the 2010 Class A championship game and to Williamstown in the semifinals a year ago.
Wahama features a ground game that is averaging nearly 353 yards per game while throwing for an additional 93 yards per contest. WHS is a plus-nine (22-13) in turnover margin and is averaging 42 points per game while giving up two touchdowns per outing defensively. Magnolia is scoring at a 34 points per game clip while allowing the combined opposition to score 12 points per game.
Wahama is again expected to try and establish its fearsome ground game with a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in Kane Roush and Zach Wamsley leading the way. Roush has scored 27 touchdowns and 168 points on the year while Wamsley has picked up 1,100 yards and has tallied 161 points this season. Seniors Trenton Gibbs and Crandal Neal have 615 and 572 rushing yards, with Gibbs connecting on 53 of 100 aerials on the season for 1088 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Kane Roush is also the Falcons’ leading receiver with 17 receptions for 257 yards and two touchdowns while Wyatt Zuspan has 12 catches for 255 yards and two scores in addition to senior Austin Cole with eight grabs for 208 yards and three TD grabs.
Defensively for the Bend Area team, Colton Neal and Zach Wamsley are coming off remarkable playoff performances with Crandal Neal, Zach Killingsworth, Wesley Harrison and Garrett Miller providing substantial contributions as well. The interior line play on both sides of the football has also figured heavily during the White Falcons 12-game, 2012 winning string. Senior Benny Youkers, juniors Josh Haddox, Lane Sparks, Tyler Nutter, sophomores Brent Larck and Demetrius Serevicz and freshmen Jesse Hesson and Clayton Sines have all escalated the White Falcons achievements throughout the year.
Kickoff of the classic Classic Class A semifinal is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Magnolia High School in New Martinsville. The eventual winner advances to Wheeling Island Stadium for the Class A championship game on Saturday, Dec. 1.