Madonna must win for a playoff spot, home game

PICKING UP THE PIECES — Madonna’s Donovan Kirby scrambles for the loose ball during a kickoff return against Wheeling Central on Saturday. (Photo by Joe Catullo)

BLACKSVILLE — Two teams battling for ranking among the final 16 teams in Class A will do battle Friday night in the annual clash between visiting Madonna and Clay-Battelle. The opening kick is slated for 7 p.m.

Madonna, which has fallen on hard times in the last two games after winning the first seven, is still in the hunt for a top eight playoff spot and home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the Cee Bees (6-3) are ranked 19th and are battling just to get in the playoffs.

“It should be a playoff atmosphere there Friday night,” said Madonna coach Darrin Hicks, whose team has lost two in a row. “We have got those games behind us and came out Monday concentrating on Clay-Battelle.”

The Blue Dons were rocked from the ranks of the unbeaten two weeks ago when they went into the game with Steubenville Catholic Central ranked fourth in the state. The Crusaders cruised to a surprisingly easy 43-7 victory. Then last week the Blue Dons were manhandled by another Ohio Valley Catholic school rival, Wheeling Central, absorbing their first shutout 50-0.

The win moved the Maroon Knights from 14th to 12th in this week’s state rankings, while the Blue Dons dropped two spots to ninth.

“I know there are a lot of scenarios about where we will end up in the rankings, but I don’t worry about scenarios,” Hicks said. “Whatever comes, comes. My focus this week, as it is every week, is to be 1-0. What happens after that happens.

“Sure, it would be great to have at least one playoff game at home. There definitely are advantages to that. We just want to be sure that we’re sharp this week.”

It is evident from the last two games that the Blue Dons need to get star running back Donavan Kirby back on track. Kirby gained 1,895 yards in the first seven games, but the defenses the last two weeks put seven and eight players in the box and held him to a combined total of 245 yards — 154 against CCHS and 91 by WCCHS. The latter is a season low.

Kirby goes into the game this week needing only 11 yards to eclipse the school rushing record of 2,150 yards set in 2004 by Luke Myers.

“That’s a big deal with him and even a bigger deal with our team,” Hicks said. “Throughout our season it has been kind of a game within the game. Obviously, his success helps us get to victories, so it’s nice to see him excelling like that. He’s tremendously talented. It’s also nice to see our entire offense rally around him as he pushes forward to that record.”

With the opposition focusing on Kirby the last two weeks, the Blue Dons have scored just seven points, while rolling up 253 points in that seven-game win streak.

However, as important as the offense has been, one of the things Hicks and his Blue Dons need to do is get the defense back on track. The Blue Don defense had only 68 points scored against it in the seven-game win streak, but 93 points have been scored against it in the last two games.

That could be a task as the Clay-Battelle offense is a high-scoring bunch. The Cee Bees, which were upset by Clarksburg Notre Dame last week, have compiled 304 points in nine games, an average of 33.7 per.

“Clay-Battelle is a good football team,” Hicks said after reviewing the scouting report. “They use multiple offenses and defenses. They have an explosive offense that scores a lot of points, and the defense is pretty stingy.”

The Cee Bee defense has yielded 176 points to date.

“They have a running back that is pretty shifty, some receivers that can get open and a solid quarterback,” Hicks said. “They have a lot of weapons. They aren’t the biggest team up front that we have seen, but they are fundamentally sound and well-coached. They do a good job within their schemes.”

Hicks said the Cee Bee offense has favored the run over the last few games.

“We want to get every facet of our game back on track this week,” he said. “Central did a good job against us last week. I tip my cap to them, but I hope we can get back to our system of football this week.

“Offensively, we constantly are working to find the best way to score as many points as we can. Football is a game of adjustments. I enjoy the tactical part of the game such as preparing for the opponent during the week and then making the adjustments and counters during the game. I think that everybody that coaches football enjoys that part of the game.”

The two teams have faced one common opponent in Beallsville. Clay-Battelle downed the Blue Devils 49-12 in Week 2, and the Blue Dons went to Beallsville a week later and won 42-0.