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Winless Red Riders host Homecoming, Magnolia

October 4, 2012
By RALPH COX - Sports correspondent , The Herald-Star

WEIRTON - The Weir High Red Riders will take their seventh shot Friday night at getting that illusive first win of the 2012 season, but there are long odds that the homecoming crowd will see it happen.

First, the Riders face one of the better teams in the state's small school ranks, Magnolia, which has won five of six games. Magnolia High School in New Martinsville has experienced a decline in enrollment and this year was reclassified into the West Virginia Class A ranks from AA.

The Blue Eagles, which won the Class AA state championship a couple of years ago, is ranked No. 7 in Class A this week.

If facing a formidable opponent like Magnolia isn't enough, the Red Riders could be looking at getting that first win without the services of their starting quarterback, William Larch.

Larch, a sophomore, injured a knee late in last week's 33-12 loss to Oak Glen and has been nursing it all week. He had an MRI early in the week and his status is day-to-day according to head coach Tony Filberto. The name of the starting quarterback probably will be a game day decision, he said.

"Regardless of who starts at quarterback, the injury bug will force us to start nine freshmen in the game - five on defense and four on offense," Filberto said. "It should be a very interesting night for us."

If Larch can't go, Filberto said he will make a choice between senior, Matt Barnes, and freshman, Jake Wypasek. Barnes has been a starter at wide receiver all season, but sat out the Oak Glen game last week with a concussion.

Wypasek got his first taste of varsity action last week when Larch went down in the fourth quarter. He completed one pass for 14 yards and was intercepted. Barnes was forced to play quarterback in the second half against Liberty Harrison, but didn't pass the football.

Filberto has said many times in the past that he doesn't like to play freshman at the varsity level, but prefers to bring them along slowly as they gain maturity. However, 2012 has been an unusual season and Filberto has been forced to dip into his freshman and sophomore ranks because numerous injuries and defections have depleted the upperclassmen.

The Blue Eagles, with two-time All-Stater Stephen Rogalski as the focal point, dropped its season opener, 21-20 to Linsly, but have rolled the rest of the way winning five in a row. They beat Monroe Central last week by 35-15.

Rogalski, who also is a sprint star on the Blue Eagle track team with several state championship gold medals to his credit, is the guy veteran coach, Mark Batton, wants to get the ball to.

He has veteran senior quarterback, Tanner Hanna, to do that. The Blue Eagles lost the leading ground gainer in school history, Jayson Keller, to graduation, but juniors Kage Rhode and Drew Keller are filling in nicely.

"They are a typical Magnolia football team," said Filberto.

In recent years that means they are pretty good.

"Rogalski is the fastest player we'll face all season," Filberto continued. "We'll have our hands full, but we are excited to play."

Filberto said homecoming is filled with positives and negatives.

"I love the atmosphere homecoming brings to the campus and I encourage our players to participate in this high school experience," he said. "However, I caution them not to let the excitement cause them to lose focus of the game. In the big picture, homecoming is always a positive."

Turning his attention again to Friday night, Filberto said the Red Riders have to keep the ball away from the Blue Eagle offense with ball control and score points. He said the Riders need to pick up Magnolia's defensive blitzes and they can't commit turnovers.

"We can't make any mistakes," he said. "I feel that our young kids grew up last week and that they will play more maturely as we go down the home stretch."