By J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer
The Road to Wheeling goes through Fairlea?
The Class A No. 7 ranked Cavaliers will take on No. 14 Magnolia today at 1:30 p.m., in what the WVSSAC considers a home game, even if it’s not being played in the Cavs’ backyard.
The Class A semifinal matchup will be played across the county at Greenbrier East High School, after rain and snow spoiled the party in Charmco, forcing West to utilize the turf of Spartan Stadium on the final leg of its road to Wheeling.
But head coach Lewis McClung isn’t letting the change of venues distract his team from the prize.
“Not at all,” he said when asked if it’s changed how his team has prepared this week. “With the rain and snow there was no way to get that surface ready.”
For McClung and the Cavs, it’s business as usual, even if the team had to change practice schedules around due to weather conditions, the Thanksgiving holiday and one of southern West Virginia’s favorite pastimes.
“We kind of had to work around some deer hunting,” McClung said with a laugh.
It will be no laughing matter today, however, as it is time to get down to business — the business of playing aggressive offense and smothering defense, a business that is doing pretty well.
The Cavaliers opened up the first round of the playoffs with a 54-7 win over Notre Dame, before traveling to St. Marys a week ago and winning 18-0.
On the season, West has averaged 39 points per game while allowing just 9, with their only blemish coming against Class AA No. 6 ranked Summers County 27-20 on Sept. 27.
“We’ve played lights-out all year, but had one game where we didn’t play so well,” McClung said. “Summers County had a lot to do with that. Isaiah Brown and T.J. Smith are hard to tackle. We didn’t really tackle well in that game, but have in every other game we’ve played.”
McClung pointed out 6-foot-1, 182-pound junior defensive end Marquis Frazier and his left side counterpart Corey Cox as being part of the reason for his team’s defenses success.
“Marquis has been a real standout for us,” McClung said. “Corey has played well, and our secondary has played a lot better.”
The Cavaliers will need that defense to step up against the Blue Eagles today. They bring with them one of Class A’s leading rushers in 5-foot-9, 180-pound senior tailback Drew Keller.
Keller is averaging 6.8 yards per carry and has racked up 1,688 yards on the season and scored 20 touchdowns.
“They really like to run the football,” McClung said of Magnolia, who he identified as a faster Pocahontas County team. “They’ve got really good size. The Keller kid is really good. It ought to be a really good game.”
While Magnolia may be known as a running team, its quarterback, Jake Brill, is no slouch either, going 72-for-114 for 1,045 yards and 11 touchdowns. He’s only thrown a single interception all year.
The road to Wheeling for Magnolia has been a bumpy one. The Blue Eagles lost their opening two games to Linsley and Williamstown then won their next two against Tyler Consolidated and River (Ohio), before losing once more to Wheeling Central Catholic.
Their only other loss was an 11-9 defeat to St. Marys, the same team which Greenbrier West defeated in the second round.
Magnolia opened the playoffs with a 42-16 win over Valley and defeated Moorefield 37-7 a week ago.
But McClung said Magnolia’s 8-4 record and 14th seed is no indication of what type of team the Blue Eagles really are.
“Magnolia is a good team,” he said. “Sure, they’re the 14th seed, but to be honest, people are probably more surprised to see us in the semis.”
McClung insists his team isn’t looking past Magnolia at a possible state championship berth in Wheeling Island, saying instead, they’re doing what they’ve been doing all season.
“Our guys are focused enough,” he said. “We’ve talked all year about taking this all in stride and going one step at a time.”
— E-mail: jrollins@register
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