First-time foe Cambridge visits Logan Friday night
By CRAIG DUNN Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
LOGAN — Already this season, the Logan Chieftains have faced — and fended off — challenges from a variety of opponents with varying playing styles.
They all had one thing in common, however: athletic quarterbacks who could run the ball as well as they threw it.
That’s the challenge awaiting the Chiefs as they take on the Cambridge Bobcats, a first-time opponent that will make the nearly two-hour trek from Guernsey County to Logan Chieftain Stadium Friday night (7 p.m. kickoff) for the first-ever football meeting between the two schools.
Friday’s clash with the Bobcats (2-1) ends an early-season string of three consecutive home games for the Chiefs (3-0), who play four of their next five foes on the road starting next week at Nelsonville-York.
Overall, though, Logan head coach Billy Burke is more concerned with what his own team is doing than with playing a new opponent. Cambridge will be the 88th different foe in the history of Logan Chieftain football.
“I’m not necessarily wrapped up in the idea of playing a new opponent,” Burke revealed. “We have some things we have to work on ourselves… the biggest thing being able to correct the mistakes that you have week in and week out.
“We have young kids and some guys trying to find their way on the field and get better at their positions,” he continued. “I don’t know that we’re so concerned about Cambridge as we are concerned about making sure that we do the things that we do correctly and, of course, still be able to game plan for them.”
The Bobcats will be another solid foe with another multi-talented QB. Senior Josh Lewis, a three-year letterman, passed for 884 yards and rushed for 428 more (5.2 yards per carry) and four touchdowns last fall.
“They have an athletic quarterback, which we’ve seen — and, yeah, we’ve struggled a little bit with that,” Burke acknowledged, “but I think other teams struggle when Lane (Logan quarterback Lane Little) gets going, too. The athleticism of the quarterbacks is a little different dynamic in this day and age of football. I think a lot of teams like to put their best athlete at quarterback.
The Bobcats “do a lot of different things,” he continued “They go from three-back personnel and trying to hammer the football and then go one-back personnel where they’re spreading the ball all over the field. We have to able to defend multiple aspects of their offense.”
Burke knows his Chieftains, who have scored at least four touchdowns in all three of their games thus far this season, will also get a challenge from the Cambridge defense.
“They’re going to be aggressive on defense and come after us,” he said. “They’re going to commit as many guys as they can to stopping our run and play a lot of man-to-man coverage.
“We absolutely have to know our strengths and weaknesses and evaluate what Cambridge does well and how what we’re capable of doing matches up against them,” the third-year Logan coach added. “That’s really the thing every single week: find your strengths and find their weaknesses and strengths and see if you can’t find a way to attack them in any given situation.”
While that might sound simple in theory, all coaches know it’s not always as easy to execute. In the first three games, for example, the opposing team’s quarterback has been either the best or second-best athlete on the team — a trend, as Burke pointed out — and tough to game-plan for.
Logan foes have rushed the ball 113 times for 609 yards thus far, with opposing QBs having accounted for 47 and 208, respectively. Teays Valley’s Drew Pennington and Meigs’ Cody Bartrum both scrambled for yardage as well as running on plays designed for them to run.
“The hardest thing is when you do a good job of covering all the receivers and the (QB) steps up and scrambles out into open field,” Burke said. “You can commit somebody to spy him, but then you lose somebody in coverage. It’s a little bit of give-and-take.”
Using Bartrum as an example, “when things broke down in previous weeks, when it was a third-and-eight pass he was able to scramble and get the first down when you did everything right except you’re in pass drops way too far covering his receivers,” Burke pointed out. “And that’s the same thing we’re going to see this week, too. Their quarterback has made some timely plays with his legs when things broke down in protection or when his receivers were covered.”
The Chiefs also enter Friday’s game as the “hunted,” so to speak: they cracked the Associated Press rankings for the first time in six years earlier this week, checking in at No. 15 in Division II. They’re also in a lofty potential playoff position, but there’s a lot of football yet to be played.
And it’s something that Burke pointed out to his team early in the week.
“When I addressed the team on Monday, I was making a big deal of it and (the players) were just kind of looking at me funny,” Burke recalled with a chuckle. “I said ‘you guys know me, don’t you?’
“It has absolutely no bearing on our season where we are ranked right now,” he added. “What ultimately matters in that respect is where we’re ranked after week 10; it has nothing to do with the outcome of our season. I try to point out the elephant in the room and beat them to the punch.”
One thing that does have a bearing on the season, however, is being emotionally ready to play on a weekly basis.
While Burke felt the Chiefs weren’t quite emotionally set for last week’s game against Meigs — they scored in the final three minutes to escape with a 27-22 victory — it’s something that has to be expected from kids from time to time throughout the season.
“Oh, I think that’s absolutely the case,” Burke agreed. “When you’re dealing with 15-, 16-, 17-year-old kids, there’s lots of different things that can distract them from the game of football. This week we’re dealing with the (Hocking County) fair. All of them know (the distractions are) tempting. Absolutely, it’s a worry.
“I’ve said before that we have good leadership from the top,” he continued, “but that Meigs game was a little bit scary simply because we had played two pretty emotional games (Athens and Teays Valley) and a good Meigs team comes in here and we know they wanted to take care of business. The kids were tight. We hadn’t been tight the first two weeks, and it showed.”
What ultimately mattered, however, was that the Chiefs persevered, remained calm, and pulled out a win on a 47-yard Little-to-Brady Walsh catch-and-run touchdown with 2:35 left.
“It was nice that we weren’t on our best and were still able to come out with a victory. That shows some resiliency on our part,” Burke said. “I addressed the kids earlier this week (about coming out flat) and that’s when they expressed how tight they did feel.
“ ‘I can try and gauge that, but I can’t be on the field with you,’ ” he told the team. “When things don’t go well, somebody’s got to step up and say something or do something.”
They eventually did something.
“When we looked at the film, we had a lot of good individual plays, but collectively we didn’t do well enough as an offense, defense or special teams,” Burke said, “but when you don’t play your best and you’re still able to come out with a win, that’s a pretty good feeling, too. I think we learned our lesson (regarding) the emotion (needed) to be ready for the game.
“I think that’s a little bit of the reason for the tightness,” he surmised. “It’s easy to be the hunter, but you always have to be on your game when you’re the hunted. With us having success and (being) a larger school, we’re probably always going to be the hunted.
“The hunter can wait for the next one to come along… but the hunted has to be at your best or bad things are going to happen.”