Another rivalry game up next for Chieftains
By CRAIG DUNN Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
LOGAN — Events that played out earlier this week in Nelsonville no doubt ratcheted up interest in Friday night’s Logan at Nelsonville-York football game.
While the Chieftains (4-0) look to remain undefeated, the Buckeyes (1-3) look to right the ship in more ways than one.
Their longtime head coach, Dave Boston Jr., resigned on Monday following an altercation with an assistant coach during last Friday’s 23-12 loss to visiting River Valley and offensive coordinator Earich Dean takes over as interim coach Friday night.
Kickoff at Boston Field (named after longtime coach Dave Boston Sr., who led the Buckeyes to a 1981 state championship) is 7:30 p.m. — Logan’s final 7:30 kickoff of the regular season. All five remaining games on the slate are 7 p.m. starts.
“I told our kids that one of these scenarios happens per year in the state of Ohio (when there’s) some big emotional upheaval that happens within a football program,” said Burke. “We just so happen to be the ones who get to play (the Buckeyes).
The Bucks “can play like they have nothing to lose; (they can) kind of go out just for themselves individually, or this can be a rallying point,” he continued. They can say “ ‘let’s band together and see what we can do as a team and regroup.’ I would bet we’ll get the (team that) regroups. They’ll be fired up ready to play and they’ll probably have an ‘us-against-the-world’ type of mentality.”
With the new interim head coach also being the OC, Burke knows it could change how the Buckeyes approach the Chiefs.
“We’ve seen such a variety of things that they do,” Burke noted. “They’re a lot like we saw from Cambridge (last week’s 47-31 victory). We saw more of a one-dimensional kind of spread from Cambridge. Nelsonville can spread it out with one back and look to throw the football or they can put three backs and two tight ends in the game and try to run the football. They are diverse in that respect.
“With the offensive coordinator now getting the head coaching responsibilities, I probably would guess maybe (the Chiefs will see) some spread (and) maybe feature (Alex) Mount at running back. The quarterback (Hunter Edwards) is definitely a weapon who has run the ball several times. I anticipate more of a spread style with the quarterback in the involved.”
N-Y started the season by beating neighborhood rival Trimble before losing in overtime at Newark Catholic and dropping games to Liberty Center and River Valley.
“Some of the games we’ve watched we don’t recognize them, then there are other moments where they’re pretty good,” Burke revealed. “We’re trying to evaluate what type of team we’re going to face. They’ve definitely played some good football; it’s the ups-and-downs that have affected their play. Player-wise and execution-wise they do some good things… it’s (a matter of consistently) doing it over the course of a game.”
With Southeastern Ohio Athletic League membership having diminished to just four schools, it’s not all that strange to see that the Chiefs are playing just as many Tri-Valley Conference football teams as SEOAL foes this season. Friday’s game concludes Logan’s slate of non-league matchups against TVC Ohio Division opponents.
The Chiefs conclude the first half of their season by playing away from Logan Chieftain Stadium for the first time in a month and also begin a stretch in which they’ll play four of their next five games on the road.
This will be their third game against a TVC school — the Chiefs have already beaten Athens and Meigs — with three of their final five games to be against SEOAL foes Jackson, Gallipolis and Warren.
The Chiefs are riding a six-game winning streak (dating back to the end of the 2014 season) while the Buckeyes are dealing with their three-game losing streak and the loss of their head coach.
While Logan’s obviously not a member of the TVC, this is one of three clear-cut “rivalry” games on the Logan schedule (Jackson and Athens being the others) and the old cliché “you can throw out the records” applies, more often than not, when the Purple & White collide with the Orange and Brown.
Last year was certainly an aberration, however, when the Chiefs were absolutely dominant in routing the Buckeyes 40-7 in Logan Chieftain Stadium. The game wasn’t really even that close; the Chiefs led 40-0 at halftime, and the entire second half was played with a running clock.
Make no doubt about it: regardless of what happened earlier in the week, the Buckeyes are aching for revenge.
The Chiefs should get senior wide receiver Isaiah Smith back Friday night. Smith was hurt late in the opening quarter of last week’s win over Cambridge and sat out the rest of the game as a precautionary measure after going through concussion protocol.
“I think Isaiah will be ready to go,” Burke said. “There are a lot of precautions to take. We have a good trainer in Jay (Hubbard). I trust Jay’s judgment. Better safe than sorry.”
Logan gets Smith back but loses Hubbard. This is his last week as Logan High School’s trainer; he is moving away from the district and taking an out-of-state job.
With Smith out for most of last Friday’s game, underclassmen Riley Nelson, Tommy Breining and Jenson Wallace all stepped up big time. Each caught one of quarterback Lane Little’s LHS school single-game record five touchdown passes.
“The kids who had to step up got an opportunity to gain some confidence,” Burke said. “We had to utilize them (without having Smith available) to make a play. I think Lane gained some confidence in a few more receivers, and I think we gained some confidence in our passing game to know that when we have to, we can (go to other receivers) and we don’t always just have to go to Isaiah.”
Most teams double-team Smith.
“I would double-team Isaiah, too,” Burke said, “and I still think we could throw him the football, even if he’s double-teamed. But it’s nice knowing we have other guys who are capable of contributing in that passing game as well.
“As we’ve progressed through the season, we’re seeing how much our underclassmen can grow,” he added. “The more they grow, and the better they get and contribute with hard work, just makes our team better. You want to be peaking at the right times, and I think we’re certainly on the upswing of getting better.”
No doubt, having a stable of dependable receivers and a running back (Bryce McBride) averaging nearly 210 yards per game — all playing behind a solid offensive line — makes the Purple & White a dangerous team.
The Chiefs are in the process of making some defensive adjustments, however. While the offense is averaging 40.5 points and 445.8 yards per game, those numbers against the Logan defense are 27.3 and 375.3, respectively.
“We’ve had to continue to look at how we’re defending the passing game,” Burke said. “I don’t know that we set up as a team that’s super-athletic out in space, so we have to work and work and work. Sometimes you have linebackers who are tough between the tackles (who are) run-stoppers and don’t do well in space. We’re pretty pleased with the way we’re defending the power running game, but it’s the stuff in space that we have to continually work on and get better.
“I think we’ve settled on Tomas Wright to play a lot of linebacker for us,” he continued, “but we’re still not solid in all of our linebacker positions.”
Playing more on defense in Smith’s stead, Little had a team-high 10 tackles — eight of them solo — in last week’s win over Cambridge.
“Lane doesn’t get a ton of repetitions at corner or free safety during the week (because) we’re trying to get other guys ready,” Burke noted. “It’s great knowing we don’t have to practice him a ton. He’s a sponge and he picks it all up. I try to teach and encourage our players that they don’t have to just be in (the game) to learn what to do. It’s so much of a mental part of what we do that you have to be watching other guys getting coached up at your position so that when you get a chance to come in you can avoid the mistakes.
“That’s what Lane does so well,” he added. “He learns from watching other people just as much as he does from doing.”
Bottom line is the Chiefs have parlayed their offensive firepower and the ability to excel in pressure situations into a 4-0 start.
“Would you rather lose pretty or win ugly? When you win ugly you prove you can pull out a victory no matter what the situations are,” Burke said. “That’s certainly a confidence-builder as well. We’re happy with the way things have turned out. Whether we’ve played well or not, we’ve learned to scratch and claw and learned how to come out with victories.”