By Rusty Udy
For The Register-Herald
The great soul singer Aretha Franklin said, “All I am asking for is a little respect.”
Such can be said for the Greenbrier West Cavaliers. While many around the state of West Virginia were surprised by the Cavaliers’ win last week over Class A No. 2 St. Marys, those same people did not give the Cavaliers much of a chance against the red hot Magnolia Blue Eagles.
However, Saturday afternoon the No. 7 Cavaliers earned their respect by knocking off the 14th-rated Blue Eagles 21-14 behind the feet and arm of senior Malik Boatwright.
“We knew this was going to be a battle. They (Magnolia) are there, year in and year out, no matter what the seed. They are a great program”, said victorious Cavaliers coach Lewis McClung.
The game started rough for Boatwright, who took a vicious hit on the game’s third play, sending him somersaulting in the air, and resulting in a fumble at midfield that was recovered by Magnolia.
Magnolia advanced the ball down inside the red zone behind “Mr. Do Everything,” Drew Keller, but a sack and a holding penalty spelled the end of the Blue Eagles’ threat.
Boatwright quickly atoned for the fumble by slashing through the middle of the line and racing virtually untouched for a 74-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Magnolia went back to its bread and butter with Keller on the next drive, but two big fourth-down conversions by quarterback Jacob Brill keyed to the drive’s success.
Brill converted a fourth-and-1 with a quarterback sneak and had a huge 12-yard pass on fourth down that led to Keller sprinting into the end zone from 18 yards out on the next play to even the score.
The Cavaliers regained the lead when Boatwright found Corey Cox on a 20-yard touchdown pass. Boatwright had turned to hand it to a running back, but no one was there. He then sprinted to the right, and when the Blue Eagles collapsed on him, he lofted a pass over the defenders to Cox, who found his way to paydirt and a 14-7 lead.
With the Cavaliers now keying on the workhorse Keller, Brill lofted two passes up to wide receiver Eric Smith, who made two big-time receptions of 28 and 34 yards in double coverage to push the Blue Eagles down the field. Keller scored another touchdown from 4 yards out just before the half to tie the score.
Keller went to the locker room with 98 yards on 27 carries, while Boatwright had 104 on just five carries — mainly due to Magnolia controlling the first-half time of possession.
The Blue Eagles opened the second half just like the first, with a heavy dose of Keller moving the ball to the Cavaliers’ 38-yard line. There, on fourth-and-2, Magnolia opted to play field position and punted, pinning West at its own 6-yard line.
It would be the last trip into Greenbrier West territory for Magnolia the remainder of the game.
West moved the ball out to the 32-yard line and faced a crucial third-and-10 when Boatwright broke free again and raced 55 yards to the Magnolia 13.
Magnolia stiffened and Boatwright’s pass into the end zone on fourth down was just out of bounds.
The Cavaliers defense, which held Keller to 32 second-half yards, would not allow Magnolia any breathing room, and forced punts the rest of the way, keeping the field position in West’s favor.
“Field position plays a big role in these games when you pound the ball like both of our teams do,” Magnolia coach Mark Batton said. “These kinda games come down to a play or two and they made a couple plays more than we did. My hat’s off to Coach McClung and his staff.”
Even with the field position in their favor, the Cavaliers faced a crucial fourth-and-9 with just 1:21 left in the game. Boatwright’s pass across the middle fell incomplete, but a pass interference call kept the drive alive and moved the ball to the Magnolia 18.
The heavy dose of runs in the second half, especially 10 dive plays to fullback Chase McClung, paid off on the next play. Boatwright faked the ball to McClung and rolled out to his right, throwing a strike on the move to Garrett Smith, who made a great catch in the corner of the end zone for the winning score.
“It’s just unbelievable. I have dreamed about making catches like that,” an elated Smith said.
McClung will be taking the Cavaliers to the first championship game for the school since 1991.
“We have been so close a few times,” he said. “To finally kick that door down, I am glad for the kids, the coaches and glad for the community.”
Boatwright expressed the team’s discipline and focus when asked about how it feels to go to Wheeling. “It feels good, but it will be a bigger fight than today. We have to play together and we have to want it.”
Greenbrier West will be a decided underdog again when it squares off against No. 1 Madonna next Saturday at Wheeling Island Stadium. Kickoff will be 7 p.m.
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