Celebration of Champions: 2000 Chieftains reached rarefied air in school's greatest football season
By Spencer Waugh
Twenty years ago, Logan’s gridiron Chieftains went to new heights by winning a pair of Division I playoff games against Westerville South (53-20) and Pickerington (28-26) before culminating with a regional final loss to eventual state champion Upper Arlington.
While LHS had seen perfect regular seasons in 1934, 1964, and 1977, those teams were denied the opportunity to play in the postseason. And while the 1987 and 1999 Chiefs had reached the playoffs, neither had found success.
For those involved in that magical 2000 season, the success wasn’t a surprise.
“We knew we had something special,” longtime Chieftain coach Dale Amyx explained. “We’d been good for a couple of years, but this group was even better. I just didn’t want to mess it up.”
“We didn’t have a discipline problem all year that I had to deal with,” Amyx continued. “And that says a lot about the seniors. If I don’t have to deal with problems that means they are taking care of things.”
“It was a group of people who developed a bond over many years of competition,” added tight end-defensive end Jim Bennett, one of the team’s captains. “We knew it would be a special season if we stayed committed, stayed disciplined, and stayed focused.”
The class of 2001 — the seniors who made up a bulk of that team — had been undefeated through junior high and their freshman season. They lost only five games in three seasons of Varsity football. While several classes can lay claim to the best athletic class ever at LHS, this class was objectively the most accomplished.
They’re the only football team to win two playoff games in a single season. They were the only Chieftain basketball team to reach the regional tournament, the first Chieftain baseball team to reach the regional tournament since 1938, had two state qualifiers in wrestling, and had numerous track and field standouts.
“All these kids played multiple sports. I loved that,” observed Amyx. “We don’t have enough of that anymore. They were so competitive and there is no doubt that helped drive their success.”
“We could communicate without talking,” recalled receiver-defensive back Travis Keirns. “We knew what each other were thinking.”
The offense set school records that still stand today, scoring 519 points (40 per game) and gaining 5,074 total yards (390 per game) including 3,050 (234 per game) on the ground.
After the purple and white’s dominant 62-14 victory over Jackson in a battle of 8-0 teams, Logan Daily News sports editor Jason Arkley compared playing that Logan team to wrestling an octopus.
“Just when you think you have a handle on things, wham!, another arm pops out of nowhere and slaps you around,” he wrote.
The offense was built around the immense talent of quarterback Joey Conrad.
Conrad re-wrote the LHS passing record book during his three years under center, throwing for 4,298 yards and 36 touchdowns in his career. He was also a weapon in the run game, where he added nine touchdowns on the ground.
“Joey made it possible for us to do almost anything we wanted offensively,” Amyx admitted. “We could run power, we could run the spread. Our two-minute drill, which is what became the spread, was so good.”
“We could play so many styles on offense,” Bennett concurred. “Having Joey made us play at such a different level.”
“I believe in running the football and we had the personnel to do that,” Amyx noted. “But no doubt these guys could have run the modern spread. We used to debate as coaches whether or not we should.”
But as good as Conrad and the passing game were, it was on the ground that Logan did its damage. Junior tailback Derek Harden was unproven heading into the season and was asked to replace Wayne Bateman, who had set a new single-season rushing record the year before.
“Derek was a pleasant surprise,” recalled fullback-linebacker Jamey Hankison. “Transitioning from Wayne to Derek – we had to prove it would work. He just matured from his sophomore to his junior year.”
Harden ran 280 times for 1,670 yards and 28 touchdowns, all of which still stand as LHS rushing records. His vision, patience and quick first step made him a nightmare for opposing defenders.
Joining Harden in the backfield were Hankison and classmate Matt Mong at the fullback spots.
“People sometimes got on us for being boring,” Amyx admitted. “But (offensive coordinator) Jim Robinson was like a second head coach. He always knew what to call. He set up plays. He was so good at putting the kids in the right situation.”
Conrad had a deep receiving corps to throw to, led by brother Johnny, speedster Ryan Wykle and Keirns, who had excellent hands and route-running ability. In addition, Noah Bookman early in the season and Jesse Henestofel late in the season provided excellent depth.
Up front, the line wasn’t intimidating in its size but as a group they were beyond capable and extremely experienced.
“We were small. A lot of people might be surprised at that,” right guard Matt Sigler confessed. Sigler weighed 195 pounds, center Ron Elick and left guard Jasen Ogle both played at 200 pounds, left tackle Matt Hall was listed at 210, and the lone underclassman was sophomore right tackle Trevor Emerson, who weighed in at 250.
Elick and Sigler started three years with the Varsity while Ogle and Hall were two-year starters. Emerson, while only a sophomore, would anchor the Chieftains’ line for three straight years.
“We worked well together,” Sigler remembered. “We had a really good knack for communicating. We were always talking on the line, in the huddle, making our own interior line audibles. We could switch blocks if we needed to.”
“They didn’t make mistakes. They didn’t commit bad penalties. They were disciplined and well-coached. Other teams knew what was coming but it didn’t matter,” Hankison added.
As a fullback, Hankison was a key component to both the run and pass games along with tight end Bennett. Logan frequently would line up in a power-I formation with an additional fullback, usually Mong.
“When we would go ‘power,’ the opposing linebackers would point to the gap we were going to run through,” Hankison continued. “We would all tell them they were right and push them all out of the end zone and the guy behind us would score.”
“A great example was one of our battles with Jackson,” Sigler explained. “We had run 32 or 34 dive like eight times in a row, and it got to the point where we were just moving it in three-four-five-yard chunks. I looked at the guy across from me – and Ron and Jasen were doing the same – we told them it was coming to that hole again. And it didn’t matter.”
“Sigler was always there to pick up the running back,” explained Bennett. “He’d run downfield following the play. We were a team. One unit. We weren’t going back to the huddle until everyone was up.”
But as good as the Chiefs were on offense, the defense was quick, tenacious, and suffocating. They allowed only 100 points in the regular season, with nearly half of the points allowed coming in the fourth quarter of blowout victories.
The purple and white lined up in a base 5-3 defense geared toward having the down linemen occupy opposing blockers and allowing the linebackers to run downhill and attack the football. It was particularly effective against the wing-T offenses Logan saw during the bulk of the regular season.
Henestofel, at safety, was the Associated Press Southeast District defensive Player of the Year, recording five interceptions (returning three of them for scores), 11 pass break-ups and 84 total tackles. Henestofel played the first half of the season in a cast on one arm and still recorded multiple interceptions.
“That loss to New Lexington our junior year (a shocking 16-10 setback to open the 1999 season) set the stage for the defense going forward,” Hankison explained. “Johnny (Conrad) was a defensive end as a sophomore and in that game. But after the loss, we moved him to middle linebacker and his speed and aggression changed the defense for the better.”
Johnny Conrad was the center of the defense at his middle linebacker post, where he recorded 152 total tackles and seven quarterback sacks with Hankison, Mong and Harden all rotating at the other two linebacker posts.
Up front, Bennett, Mong, Sigler and David Montgomery were key players at defensive end. Bennett, who was long and lean, broke up 14 opponents’ passes at the line of scrimmage. Joey Conrad was used situationally at end.
Inside, Josh Danison and junior Colt Thompson flanked junior Trent Woodgeard, an undersized noseguard who played at 155 pounds. Woodgeard missed over half the season with an injury, moving Ogle and sophomore Tyler Wadsworth into action on the interior defensive line.
Zach Woltz, a state qualifier in wrestling, held down one cornerback slot, with Keirns playing on the other side. Although only 5-foot-7, Keirns played bigger than his roster size would have you believe.
“I think I was too dumb to realize I was small,” Keirns said bluntly, explaining how he competed with guys much larger in stature. “With those guys you survived or you didn’t. I went up against such great players in practice every week. I had the experience to learn and adapt.”
Special teams were another strong point for the 2000 Chiefs.
Wykle returned three punts for touchdowns that season (and a school record five in his career) while junior Jeremy Coakley returned a kickoff for six. Junior Adam Puhl was a reliable placekicker, converting a record 65 PATs and amassing 68 total kicking points, which were both school bests. Johnny Conrad and Montgomery were excellent in the punting department.
The players and coaches all knew how special the 2000 season could be. But it wasn’t their secret. All of Logan and Hocking County were in on the excitement as well when LHS hosted New Lexington in the season opener.
“I felt like there were so many people there,” Keirns remembered. “It seemed like the whole county. It was amazing to see all those people. It was a great way to start the season.
“That game was definitely circled,” Amyx explained about the Panthers’ shocking upset the previous season. “We were definitely better, more talented (in 1999). But we were loose, maybe cocky. I took the blame – we got outcoached. But it may have been a blessing in disguise because we all realized we had to prepare and practice every week.”
Logan would win its next 29 regular season games over three years following that loss to New Lex. The Chiefs opened 2000 with a 34-7 win over the Panthers as Harden ran for four touchdowns and Conrad passed for 202 and a scoring toss to Keirns.
Logan’s trip to Nelsonville-York the next week proved a tougher challenge.
“That game stands out,” recalled Hankison. “It was really hot and sticky and we had problems staying hydrated and we all kinda cramped up. They (the host Buckeyes) were outmatched physically but I remember it being a lot of work.”
Logan would utilize the power running game as Harden carried a season-high 30 times, including three touchdowns, in the Chiefs’ 28-3 victory.
A road trip to Zanesville followed, with Logan pulling out a 27-21 win in a game that was deceptively close. Zanesville only scored one offensive touchdown and had trouble moving the football all night.
A week later against Warren, Logan built a 35-0 lead thanks to a pair of Harden scoring runs and a pair of returns by Wykle (a 41-yard punt return) and Henestofel (a 35-yard pick six). The Chiefs led 56-7 late in the third quarter before the blue and white added three late-game scores to bring the final margin to 56-27.
Point Pleasant came to the hilltop undefeated, but went down 28-7 as Conrad connected with his brother and Bennett for scores.
The highlight of that night was a punishing crackback block delivered by Johnny Conrad to John Bonecutter, the Big Blacks’ standout running back. In an era before concussion protocol, Bonecutter returned to the action but in the modern game both the hit and his return to play would both likely be against the rules.
“That’s the thing about Johnny,” Bennett said. “He had a nose for finding that kind of contact. He loved to hit people.”
Logan rolled over Athens 62-14 as Harden ran for 194 yards and four scores and the next week LHS shutout Marietta 48-0 as Harden ran for 216 yards and two scores and the Conrad twins connected seven times for 107 yards and a score. Wykle returned a punt 86 yards against the Tigers.
The Chiefs (7-0) went to Gallipolis (6-1) to face a Blue Devil squad that had reached a Division III regional final the year before.
“With Gallipolis and Coach (Brent) Saunders, they were always solid,” recalled Amyx. “Even with that group we were nervous going down there. I was a little tight, I was hard on them in practice. I probably had us a little too juiced.”
The Blue Devils contained Harden, keeping him out of the end zone and holding him under 100 yards for the first time that season. But Conrad used his legs to pick up the slack and ran for all four Logan touchdowns in a 31-7 victory.
Hankison believes Gallipolis was the best team the Chiefs faced in the regular season, and the Devils’ week-10 victory over Jackson confirms that.
“That (Memorial Field) was always a tough place to play with the setting and that field down in the bowl,” Sigler remembered.
The next week brought a Southeastern Ohio Athletic League championship battle to Bill Sauer Field on Senior Night as Jackson brought an identical 8-0 record to the old Hilltop stadium.
The Ironmen had won there in 1998, the only league loss for the LHS seniors in their career. Additionally, Jackson and Logan had won at least a share of six-straight league titles entering the contest.
“(Jackson head coach) Randy (Layton) and I were good friends and before the game he says ‘You’re going to kill us,’” Amyx confided. “I said, ‘Randy, you’re 8-0, we’re 8-0, come on. But he followed up saying ‘we’ve been doing it with smoke and mirrors. You guys have been killing everyone’. And I guess he was kind of right.”
“They were a worthy opponent,” said Bennett. “They hit hard. You knew you had to bring your best against them.”
Logan and Jackson played a competitive battle for a quarter and a half. Logan took possession on the Jackson 48-yard line with 3:12 to play in the second quarter and, over the next 11 minutes, would use its offense, defense, and special teams to completely blow the game open, turning a 14-7 defensive battle into a dominating 56-7 lead.
During that span, Henestofel touched the football three times and scored three touchdowns, beginning with a 13-yard reception that capped a seven-play, 48-yard drive that saw Conrad complete 4 of 5 passes.
The Chieftains then got the ball back with just 16 seconds until halftime and pulled into their bag of tricks to grow their lead.
Conrad threw incomplete downfield on first down but, on the next play, Joey threw a lateral to Johnny, who looked up and saw a wide-open Wykle streaking down the sideline all alone. The Conrad-to-Conrad-to-Wykle 49-yard “double pass” stretched Logan’s lead to 28-7 at halftime.
“I remember how quickly it went from close, to completely out of reach,” Hankison remembered fondly.
“It was a hell of a night,” Amyx beamed. “They did a nice job early, but our defense just slammed the door.”
Junior Jeremy Coakley continued the onslaught by returning the second half kickoff 82 yards to paydirt, then Henestofel returned an interception 30 yards for a touchdown for his second of the game and growing the LHS lead to 42-7.
Following a short punt, Harden took an option pitch 40 yards for a score and, on Jackson’s next possession, Henestofel pilfered a second aerial, this time returning it 70 yards for six points. Logan’s lead ballooned to 56-7 with 4:09 to play in the third quarter.
It wound end up Chiefs 62, Ironmen 14.
“That was our Senior Night,” Bennett reminisced. “I remember the huddles that night – the desire to keep moving the ball to control the game. I’ll never forget the collective mindset to compete and win.”
Logan’s regular season concluded with a 49-0 shutout victory at River Valley to cap off a perfect 10-0 regular season. A trip to Westerville South in the opening round of the Division I, Region 3 playoffs was next.
“There was fantastic skill on that team,” Amyx said of the Wildcats. “They were one of the first spread teams.”
Westerville South featured a dynamic passing attack that featured two future collegiate Division I wide receivers in Lance Moore and Steve Odom and quarterback Rocky Pentello would rewrite the record books at Capital University. Moore not only starred at Toledo, but would go on to win a Super Bowl ring with the New Orleans Saints.
The Wildcats had passed for over 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns and Moore had set an OHSAA record for receptions.
This passing attack posed a new challenge for the purple and white, whose defense had been built to stop the running game. And there were the usual questions of whether or not Logan, which had largely played smaller schools during the regular season, could compete with top-tier Division I teams.
“Coaches came in on Monday and said we’re going to play a completely different defense,” Keirns recalled. “We were surprised, but we completely trusted Coach Amyx and Coach (Kelly) Wolfe that they would put us in the best situation to win. Every week they knew what our opponents were going to do and how we could stop it.
“We really only played with one linebacker that night,” he continued. “Zach (Woltz) and I were tasked with bumping and running. We wanted to disrupt their timing and be physical.”
“Johnny shut down their running game by himself,” said Hankison. “I played more of an inside corner (instead of linebacker).”
Joey Conrad dropped from his usual defensive end spot to a safety role.
“We knew we had to adjust,” Amyx stated. “We always had these nickel and dime packages, but really only used them in prevent situations. We tinkered with them and came up with our game plan. Then, in practice that week, (backup quarterback) Alex Penrod picked it apart. I had some self-doubt, but finally decided to trust myself and obviously it worked.”
Conrad connected with Wykle for a 58-yard scoring pass on the game’s opening drive, Harden capped a scoring drive with a nine-yard scoring run, and Wykle returned a Wildcat punt 68 yards for a touchdown as LHS built a 21-0 first-quarter lead.
Logan didn’t let up in the second quarter. The Chiefs built a 41-7 lead at one point before the Wildcats cut the lead to 41-13 as the teams went to halftime. Logan pulled away in the second half to win by a shocking 53-20 final.
“I think about that game quite a bit,” said Bennett. “When we showed up, it seemed like both the home and visitor sides were full of purple even though we were in Westerville. That was a great feeling when we ran the score up early.”
The victory over South set up a rematch with Pickerington, which had eliminated the Chiefs from the DI post-season the year before. To add to the drama, many in Logan and Hocking County were still sore from multiple losses suffered by the great girls’ basketball teams to Pickerington in the early ‘90s.
“Now you mention revenge factor, that game really was that,” explained Hankison. “They were a damn good team. The year before – as a group – we were not ready. The underclassmen weren’t quite ready to play at that level in 1999.”
“That is one where – when you think about the hardest things you have ever done – that game was so trying,” admitted Bennett. “They were so good. So fast. So big. Every play from a defensive perspective was relentless.”
The two teams traded scores all night at Lancaster High School’s Fulton Field.
Conrad ran for two first-half touchdowns and added a third just after the intermission. Pickerington quarterback Robert McDavid answered with a touchdown run and scoring toss for the Tigers. At one point Conrad completed an OHSAA record 14-straight passes and finished the game 14-of-16 for 194 yards.
Harden followed excellent blocking to bust a 24-yard scoring run with 4:35 to play to give Logan a 28-20 lead.
“That game was almost a nightmare for me,” Keirns recalled. “They moved me to punt returner because they thought my hands would ensure we wouldn’t have any mistakes. Well, I muffed one – but luckily they missed a short field goal.”
“I’ll tell you why I love Travis,” Amyx explained. “He was having trouble because he was guarding a 6-foot-6 receiver. He came to me and said ‘Coach, I can’t cover him – you need someone taller.’ No one had ever been that honest with me. We ended up moving Joey to cover that receiver.”
Because the Tigers had missed an extra point, when McDavid scored late on a 35-yard run to pull within 28-26, they had to try for a two-point conversion. They didn’t throw to the 6-foot-6 Brett Bowen; instead, it was Woltz who broke up the potential game-tying pass to Sean Tracy.
“I know in Pickerington they still swear it was a catch,” Amyx laughed. “It was close. But Zach swatted it out and the ref came in late with incompletion call.”
“I remember feeling that game would never end. We just kept watching the clock wondering if they were actually starting it like they were supposed to,” revealed Keirns.
Pickerington got one last chance to win the game, but this time it was Logan’s defense that stood tall. Amyx dialed up a blitz that saw linebacker Mong follow Bennett off the edge, leaving one tackle to block two players. On the opposite side, Montgomery beat his man. Montgomery and Mong converged on McDavid, who fumbled on the crunching tackle. Bennett recovered to seal the win for LHS.
“I grew up watching football with my dad,” Bennett said, “and I’d seen so many guys fail to make a recovery while trying to pick up and run. So, I fell on the football. I knew that’s all we needed.”
“That was one of the most rewarding games I ever coached,” concluded Amyx.
The purple and white ran into a juggernaut the next Saturday when they met Upper Arlington at Columbus Crew Stadium. The Golden Bears would go on to win the Division I state title behind a plethora of DI college commits, including Northwestern-bound running back and the state’s “Mr. Football” award winner Jeff Backes.
Simon Fraser, a tackle and defensive end for the Bears, would go on to a great career at Ohio State and had a four-year professional career with Cleveland and Atlanta.
“They were just a different level,” confessed Keirns, who had an interception that sparked one of Logan’s two scoring drives in a 45-13 setback. “Tackling Backes was like running into a brick wall and they pulled Fraser every play and he was a road grader.”
The Chieftains finished 12-1 in that historical season. But more important than the wins to those players are the memories and the legacy they left behind.
“One memory stands out,” Sigler revealed. “I was at school early and sat in the top row of the stadium looking at Bill Sauer Field. I realized that I had been a part of something so cohesive and pure in its intensity.
“When you’re out there on that field with your guys – you are present,” he added. “We all did our part. It helped me realize I didn’t want that season to be the last time I was involved in something like that.”
“If there is one thing we’re responsible for, it’s changing the culture,” continued Hankison. “In junior high, the Varsity had losing seasons. We led by example and the classes that followed really helped the program take off.”
A year later, the Chiefs would repeat the perfect regular season with an almost entirely new cast. The Logan Varsity did not have a losing season in any of the 10 seasons that followed.
12-1 (7-0) - SEOAL Champions
Division I, Reg. 3 Runner-up
8/25 - New Lexington - WIN, 34-7
9/1 - At Nelsonville-York - WIN, 28-3
9/8 - At Zanesville - WIN, 27-21
9/15 - Warren * - WIN, 56-27
9/22 - Pt. Pleasant * - WIN, 28-7
9/29 - Athens * - WIN, 62-14
10/6 - At Marietta * - WIN, 48-0
10/13 - At Gallipolis * - WIN, 31-7
10/20 - Jackson * - WIN, 62-14
10/27 - At River Valley * - WIN, 49-0
11/4 - At Westerville So. # - WIN, 53-20
11/11 - Pickerington # - WIN, 28-26
11/18 - U Arlington # - Loss, 13-45
Points For: 519 (40 per game)
Poings Against: 191 (15 per game)
Captains: Jimmy Bennett, Joey Conrad, Johnny Conrad, Jamey Hankison
Division I All-Ohio:
Joey Conrad - 2nd QB
Jesse Henestofel - 2nd DB
Jimmy Bennett - SM
Johnny Conrad - SM
Jamey Hankison - SM
Division I All-SE District:
First Team: Jimmy Bennett (DE), Joey Conrad (QB), Johnny Conrad (E), Jamey Hankison (RB), Jesse Henestofel (DB)
Hon Mention: Travis Keirns
Offensive POY - Joey Conrad
Defensive POY - Jesse Henestofel
Coach of the Year - Dale Amyx
Joey Conrad, Johnny Conrad, Jamey Hankison, Jesse Henestofel, Travis Kerins, Derek Harden
Coach of the Year: Dale Amyx
SEOAL MVP: Joey Conrad