NEW MANCHESTER - The Golden Bears and Blue Eagles have switched places.
Last year at this time, Oak Glen was coming off a 33-19 victory over Magnolia. The Bears had just completed a 9-1 regular season and were enjoying a bye week before the playoffs. The Blue Eagles were about to beat Grafton in their regular season finale to finish with a disappointing 5-5 mark after winning a state title in 2010.
A year can change a lot, however.
OG seniors (from left) Justin Stivason, Tyler Steed, Clayton Flowers and Zack Staley will play in their final game tonight. (Photo by Jamie Olmstead)
This season's matchup between the two schools, which is scheduled for a 7 p.m. kickoff tonight at the "Bears Den," will be somewhat of a role reversal.
Oak Glen enters at 4-5 hoping to finish at .500 in what has been an up-and-down campaign. Magnolia comes in a 8-1 with a home playoff game already in the bag.
"Our main goal now is to send the seniors out on a positive note," Oak Glen coach Ian Whittington said. "These are the kids that have been here putting in the hard work for four years. We owe it to them. We've got nothing to lose this week."
Sending the Bears' senior class out with a win won't be easy.
The Blue Eagles, who are now one of the top teams in Class A after moving down in classification, have quite the pedigree. Led by head coach Mark Batton, Magnolia has finished at .500 or better in eight straight seasons.
Ranked No. 2 in the state in Class A, the Blue Eagles are coming off a dominating 35-0 victory over Steubenville Catholic Central in which they outgained the Crusaders, 426 to 35. Magnolia totaled 20 first downs to Steubenville's two.
"They're a very good football team," Whittington said of Magnolia, which has won eight straight since its opening season loss at Linsly. "They're well-coached. They're disciplined. Their offense gives you a lot of looks and runs like a well-oiled machine.
"On defense, they like to bring the house. They blitz on every play. You don't have much time to get the play off. If you get it off, you have a chance, but they don't give you many."
Magnolia, which has outscored its opponents 284-87 during its 8-game win streak that includes victories against five teams with winning records, has plenty of weapons at its disposal.
First among the Blue Eagles is senior Stephen Rogalski.
The owner of every Magnolia all-time receiving record, "Rogo" has hauled in 40 passes this year for 593 yards and five touchdowns. He also has 278 yards rushing and five more scores.
For his career, Rogalski has 171 catches for 3,346 yards and 30 touchdowns.
"He's probably one of the best in the Ohio Valley," Whittington said of Rogalski. "He does it all. He lines up at wide receiver, but they run the ball with him on the jet reverse. His speed is unmatched. He's the fastest guy we've seen all year."
The Blue Eagles boast a backfield that doesn't allow opponents to focus only on Rogalski.
At quarterback is Tanner Hanna, who has thrown for 100-plus yards in six of Magnolia's nine games. On the season, he is 74-of-146 for 1,111 yards with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. For his career, Hanna ranks in the top ten all-time at Magnolia with 2,667 yards, 26 scores and 15 picks.
A two-headed attack at running back, Drew Keller leads the way with 832 yards and six scores on 160 attempts. Keller is complimented by Kage Rohde, who has found the end zone 13 times on 84 attempts for 661 yards.
"That's the thing about them," Whittington said. "Rogalski is the big-name guy, but they have a good quarterback and two good tailbacks that are always running hard and breaking tackles."
While the task at hand is a tough one, Whittington said he will hold nothing back in order to send his senior class - the winningest in school history - out with a win.
"I'm most proud of the way the seniors, most of whom got injured at one point or another, always fought back," he said. "We had some pretty serious setbacks health-wise and these guys all wanted to finish and did all they could to get back out on the field. It showed their dedication."
Win or lose, the season will likely be considered a disappointment for the Bears. Coming off their best finish in school history, Oak Glen has experienced a roller coaster ride in 2012.
Despite the struggles, Whittington said he believes the Bears' football program is in great shape heading forward.
"I feel really good about where we're at," he said. "There's a lot of positive things on the horizon. Our freshman class was really big and they did a nice job playing jayvee for us this year. Our incoming freshman class for next year also did really well. We'll only have about eight to ten seniors next year, but we'll have a huge freshman and sophomore class. Our sophomore class next year will be one of the best in the valley. There's studs all over the field. They've still got a lot of learning and growing up to do, but the future looks bright here at Oak Glen."
NOTES: The Bears and Blue Eagles have played three common opponents this season. Against Tyler Consolidated (Magnolia won, 43-13; Oak Glen won, 26-20); Against Weir (Magnolia won, 55-12; Oak Glen won, 33-12); Against Steubenville CC (Magnolia won, 35-0; Oak Glen lost, 28-6). Before last year's win over the Blue Eagles, the Bears had dropped at least seven straight to Magnolia.