Ironmen ready to play 'Playoff Points Powerball' with Chiefs
JACKSON — Last week, the tradition-rich Ironmen got back to their winning ways.
This week, the Ironmen aim to get playoff points rich — and essentially clinch the first-time four-team Southeastern Ohio Athletic League championship.
That’s because Jackson — at 5-1 (1-0 SEOAL) — travels to undefeated Logan (6-0) on Friday night for an enormous encounter, with a bevy of computer points at stake.
Both squads are ranked second in their respective playoff regions, and the winner will surely reap the benefits of any opponents’ victories over the final three weeks.
Hence, that’s why winning on Friday for the Ironmen is like hitting the proverbial Powerball.
And — not to mention — but Logan is an archrival, as both schools are charter members of the now 91-year-old SEOAL.
However — although not uncommon for this season — rain is in the forecast for Friday, especially in Logan. But, come rain or shine, the Ironmen understand the importance of the contest.
In the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s official computer ratings released on Tuesday, the Ironmen are second in Division III, Region 9, while Logan sits tied for second in Division II, Region 5. At regular season’s end, the top eight teams in each region qualify for the playoffs, while the top four teams in each region host first-round home tilts.
“We understand the importance of this game. Logan is a big conference rival for us and has been for years. They are undefeated and so it’s a huge playoff points game, along with being a big conference game. We’re second right now in (Division III) Region 9, so this gives us a chance to maintain a strong top four for a home (regional quarterfinal) playoff game,” said Jackson coach Andy Hall, in his weekly media interview on Tuesday.
“It will probably rain again, but of course being on turf really helps that. You’re not landing in mud or in puddles of water. Both teams should be used to that by now with most of our games being played in the rain this year.”
Hall even said the tilt against the Chieftains is “personal.” But, only because of the rivalry and history the two proud programs have.
“This is a rivalry and these kids have played against each other all their lives,” said Hall. “It’s easy to motivate your players when you know the opposition. They know us and we know them. That makes it fun for the kids to play against people like this.”
Indeed, it’s about as close as you can get, as the Ironmen captured the league title last year with Logan winning the year before. Jackson (23) trails only Logan (26) for the most all-time SEOAL championships.
The Chiefs have 17 outright conference crowns and the Ironmen 14, as the two have nine shared titles apiece.
Logan leads the all-time series 46-44-4, as the Chiefs have amassed a 1,498-1,371 total points advantage — or an average final score of 16-15 in favor of Logan.
The two teams did not face each other in 2006 or 2007, following the SEOAL’s expansion to 10 teams and a schedule rotation that had all schools not playing at least two opponents for two years.
Five years ago, Jackson scalped the Chieftains 49-28 to snap Logan’s 34-game league winning streak, which marked the beginning of the end of Logan’s six-year stranglehold as SEOAL champions. In fact, prior to that, Logan’s last league loss came against the Ironmen — a 21-14 tally on Oct. 1, 2004.
Prior to the ‘98 share, the Ironmen earned back-to-back outright crowns with a tri-title in 1995 with Warren and Gallipolis.
The Ironmen won back-to-back outright titles in 2010 and 2011, before Gallia Academy won the championship three years ago. Prior to the Chiefs’ five outright, both programs stood tied at 20 titles apiece.
Gallia Academy, which won or shared three straight (2002 thru 2004) after Logan won three outright (1999 thru 2001), is next with 17.
Two years ago, Jackson felt like it let one get away at Logan, losing 28-21 as the Chiefs scored the game-winning touchdown in the final 22 seconds.
“Two years ago, we felt like we had the game won, and with 30 seconds to go we let them off the hook and they scored. They did a nice job of coming back to win the game and took the conference championship away from us,” said Hall. “But we stopped playing, even for less than a minute.”
Hall reminded his Ironmen that it’s all 48 minutes of a four-quarter nerve-testing bout.
“This is going to be a game of ups and downs where you have to play all four quarters. You have to be willing to play through adversity, because there will be adverse situations and it will be an entire four-quarter game,” he said. “We can’t get down when something bad happens to us. Just play the next play, and play with a lot of emotion.”
And, still execute against the talented, experienced and explosive Chiefs, who are averaging 38.5 points per game.
The senior-oriented Chieftains sport a powerful 1-2 running-and-passing combination, with quarterback Lane Little (5-11, 155, sr.) and running back Bryce McBride (5-11, 185, sr.)
Little has completed 60 percent of his passes (71 completions on 119 attempts) for 1,224 yards and 20 touchdowns, while McBride has rushed for 1,049 yards and nine scores on 143 attempts (7.3 yards per carry).
“This is a senior-dominated team, and this group of seniors has had success all the way through at all levels. Our senior group and their senior group have been very competitive,” said Hall. “The two superstars are definitely the quarterback Lane Little and the running back Bryce McBride. Little leads the area in passing and McBride coming off the ACL injury has looked great. He’s over 1,000 yards rushing already, and Little has thrown for over 1,200 yards. They are two of the premier skilled kids in our area by far. To win the game, we have to stop those two guys.”
Not to mention Little’s top two receiving targets — senior Isaiah Smith (6-3, 186) and junior Jenson Wallace. Smith has a hefty 25 receptions for 479 yards (19.2 yards per catch) and 10 TDs, while Wallace is at 19 receptions for 350 yards (18.4 yards per catch) and 5 TDs.
Of the four Chiefs with at least eight carries and 59 yards, all average at least four yards a tote. Of the six Chiefs with at least four receptions and 54 yards, all average at least 11 yards per catch.
“They will mix it up. They run the spread attack, but they also like to run a lot of inside runs. They have big offensive linemen that are strong and get you off the football. McBride runs like a 250-pound running back. He has speed, but he runs with low pad level and he will run over you if he has to. He has great vision, too. He is definitely the best back we’ve seen all year and probably will see all year. Little, by his stats and what we’ve seen, is probably the best quarterback we’ve faced all year,” said Hall.
However, Hall said the key to defending Logan is not allowing the big play. The undefeated Ironmen of last year didn’t surrender such, rolling those Chiefs 42-7.
“They average almost 40 points per game, so they are going to move the football. But defensively, we have to prevent the big play, both running and in the passing game. They are going to gain yards at times. We’re not going to stop them to 20 yards of offense like we did last week (41-0 win at winless Warren),” said Hall. “Last year against Logan, we were able to sustain the line of scrimmage and let our back end guys on defense make plays. If you look on film, they move people at the point of attack and that running back can get downhill quick.”
Another aspect of keeping the Chiefs’ offense off the field is the Ironmen protecting the ball. Jackson has battled fumble-itis, and has had several touchdowns or long gainers get called back due to penalties.
“The key for us offensively, whether we are in a one-back or two-back set, is taking care of the football. We’ve got way too many turnovers and fumbles this year. We’ve got 18 turnovers and fumbled 29 times (lost 10). Way too many times that ball has been on the ground. And penalties have really hurt us. We can’t have big runs or big plays or first-down plays get called back,” said Hall. “If we turn the ball over or have so many penalties in a game like this, we’ll get beat.”
Mistakes will be just some of the adversity anticipated.
Hall hopes the Ironmen, which have defeated two four-wins teams (Chillicothe 19-16 in overtime and Granville 21-0) along with three-win Wellston, are able to overcome all the ebbs and flows.
“I’m hoping our non-league schedule, which has been very tough, will help prepare us for this type of game,” he said. “The adversity, the ups and downs and the controversy that usually happens in big games, we’ve faced a lot of that already. I’m hoping those are lessons learned that we can take into Logan.”
Although, the Ironmen are only 1-3 all-time in Logan Chieftain Stadium, which opened in 2008.
One of those three losses was the Division III, Region 12 playoff semifinal four years ago against Jonathan Alder.
Hall, however, digs the ‘Purple Palace’ — and absolutely anticipates a fantastic dual.
“It’s (Logan Chieftain Stadium) a great facility. I love traveling up there. Our fans will be out in full force. It will be a playoff atmosphere in front of a packed house. These are the top two teams in the conference and it has been that way for years. Our kids will be excited to go up there and play,” he said.
“I challenge everyone to get up there, whether it rains or not. We’re not going to be in the mud, so that will be good, but we need everyone’s support on Friday night because it’s going to be one heck of a ballgame.”
Paul Boggs is sports editor of The Jackson County Times-Journal, an affiliate publication to The Logan Daily News.