Another tough opponent on tap for Chieftains
By CRAIG DUNN Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
LOGAN — While the term itself may sound cliché, the Logan Chieftains can certainly attest to the truth that’s attached to the unfortunate side of the old “what a difference a day makes” expression.
At this time last week, the Purple & White were undefeated and anxiously awaiting their week-seven Southeastern Ohio Athletic League showdown with visiting Jackson.
Late the very next night, they were reeling.
Not only did the Ironmen snap the Chiefs’ eight-game winning streak — and likely claim their second-consecutive SEOAL championship in so doing — but Logan played most of the game without standout running back Bryce McBride.
Still dealing with the fallout of all that, the Chieftains (6-1) now jump from the Jackson frying pan into the Columbus fire with a non-league contest Friday night at perennial state football power DeSales.
Kickoff at St. Francis DeSales High School is 7 p.m.
Sound familiar? It’s basically the same position Jackson (6-1) was in heading into last week’s 35-21 win over the Chiefs, which — combined with Zanesville’s 13-10 overtime loss to New Philadelphia — vaulted the Ironmen into the top spot in Region 9, the same one that includes DeSales.
While DeSales might be able to withstand a loss to the Chiefs when it comes to making the post-season playoffs, Logan probably can’t.
“We put so much into the idea of (winning) the league championship, being against Jackson and being our rivals and (it) just so happens to be our first loss too,” Logan coach Billy Burke said earlier this week. “A lot of things fell in on us at the same time.
“Heck, the New England Patriots lost a game (last season) and they won a Super Bowl, so there’s a lot left to play for,” he added. “It kind of stinks that (an SEOAL championship) was one of the things we had as a goal that we’re not going to be able to experience.”
All Jackson has to do to clinch its second-straight SEOAL crown is defeat winless Gallipolis (currently 0-7) in its season finale two weeks from Friday. The Chiefs visit Gallia Academy for the final time next Friday.
Since there’s not much the Chiefs can do about the SEOAL scenario, all they can do is turn their attention to the things they can control.
“What we can control is getting ready to play DeSales,” Burke noted. “What a big win that would be for us. They are a solid program that’s obviously had a lot of success that is set up for a playoff run, (and) that’s the next goal we have set for ourselves.
“Unfortunately, league is probably out of the picture, but ironically the playoffs are still in the picture,” he continued. “We feel pretty good that if we get this win we can put ourselves in the driver’s seat so far as (a playoff berth), but we have to handle things one game at a time.”
While a loss to DeSales won’t eliminate the Chiefs from the playoff picture, it will certainly makes things incredibly tough even if they win out over current winless SEOAL foes Gallipolis and Warren.
And it was no secret that the Chiefs’ ultimate success this season would likely hinge on what they did in weeks seven and eight, anyway.
“We knew all along that these would be two tough games and a tough stretch for us,” Burke said. “We need to find a way to scratch and claw and come out with a victory on the road at their place.”
Losing McBride midway through the opening quarter did not help the Chiefs’ cause last week.
McBride — who at season’s end will become the Chiefs’ first four-year letterman in more than 50 years — only carried the ball five times for seven yards last week before hurting his right knee. He has rushed for 1,056 yards and is tied with fellow senior Isaiah Smith for the team lead with 11 touchdowns.
Last week’s game plan against Jackson also had McBride playing a majority of the game at linebacker, so that portion of the game plan went out the window when he was forced to exit the game.
“When you lose a huge chunk of your offensive game plan, you have to make decisions about how you’re going to accentuate the strengths that you do have left,” Burke noted. “We feel good anytime having Lane (quarterback Lane Little) dictate what happens in a football game, and in the situation he was given he did a great job of still being able to manufacture some offense with the limited running game we had at the time.
“The big thing is that we were trying to save Bryce all year to be able to use him on defense in a big game like this,” he added. “That was a part of the game plan we had to adapt (on the fly) as well.”
Early in the week, Burke felt that McBride would be able to play. The senior running back was due to have further examination on his knee today (Thursday) to determine his status for Friday.
If McBride is ultimately unable to play, DeSales will likely get a big dose of Little and his standout receivers, particularly Smith — 11 of his 34 receptions have been for touchdowns — and junior Jenson Wallace.
In the backfield, seniors Colton Stilwell (173 rushing yards) and Corey Wilson (87) are the next ones should McBride not be available.
“We have to do it through the passing game,” Burke said. “A lot of times with teams that focus on the passing game, if they go three-and-out they may have the ball for maybe (just) 50-some-odd seconds. That puts a huge strain on your defense.
“That’s why we like being able to run the football like we have this season,” he added. “That can dictate the pace and tempo of the game. We’re just going to have to try and control the football.”
It was the Ironmen who dictated the pace last week. They controlled the ball for much of the second half — and dominated
time of possession 27:26 to 20:34 — in pulling away from a 7-7 halftime tie.
“We had some coverage issues that if we had done our basic jobs we probably would have been okay… but that’s the way things go,” Burke noted. “That’s high school football for you. (Jackson) lost a key member too (actually a pair of them in two-way players Reagin Conley and Raymon Potter), so that’s nothing unusual.”
While the Chieftains haven’t played DeSales since 2003, the Stallions have visited Hocking County in recent years… just last fall, as a matter of fact, when they lost to Athens 52-20 in the DIII Region 9 finals in Logan Chieftain Stadium. Athens would then win another game before losing in the state D3 finals to Toledo Central Catholic.
“A lot of people (from Logan) probably saw DeSales against Athens,” Burke said. “They will be a lot like that. They will run the option offense so the quarterback reads the defensive end, reads the defensive tackle. They can run off of that and sometimes they’ll get to the pitch phase of that game.
“Really, what they feature is a big ol’ bruising tailback (Alonzo Booth) who sort of reminds you of (former NFL great) Jerome Bettis,” he added. “Sometimes they’ll get him out on the edge and run a toss-sweep with him. They’re going to try and control the clock through the run game and then play great defense… which is sort of the recipe any high school coach is after.”
This will be the first time this year the Chiefs will not have faced a multi-dimensional quarterback. The Stallions have only thrown 23 passes (a little more than three per game) all season.
Booth has rushed for a team-high 543 yards, including a 252-yard performance in a 24-7 win over CCL rival Watterson two weeks ago.
Obviously, the Chiefs want to make sure they are as prepared as possible for a DeSales team that has only committed six turnovers all season and will likely be one of the most fundamentally-sound teams they will play.
“We’ve gone back this week to really working our offensive line,” Burke noted. “We aren’t real sophisticated in what we do when we run the football, so we have to be good at what we do. We believe in the kids we have up front.
“We just have to make sure we get back to it and we don’t get loose on how we play and loose in how we prepare and get back to fundamentals,” he added. “We have to have different kids step up and contribute. I feel good about the ball being in Lane’s hands and Lane doing what he has to do. We’ll be all right offensively.”
DeSales is obviously one of the most tradition-laden football programs (23 playoff appearances and three state championships) in the state of Ohio. While the Chiefs obviously respect that, the players view the Stallions in the more-modern sense.
“Other than the fact that I think a lot of people have rammed the Jackson-DeSales (tough back-to-back games) down their throat all year long, they know that,” Burke said. “They don’t know the DeSales that I knew growing up. Our kids probably don’t know a ton about the history and tradition simply because we haven’t played them. To them, DeSales is (another) Jackson.”
And that, in itself, is saying a lot.