Long trek to Shadyside awaits Chiefs on Friday
LOGAN — Even when the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League had 10 schools and actually scheduling games wasn’t an issue, the Logan Chieftains routinely made extended Friday night football treks to such places as Zanesville, Marietta, Ironton and Portsmouth.
This Friday, however, the Purple & White take one of the school’s all-time longest road trips ever when they travel to eastern Belmont County for a non-conference matchup with the Shadyside Tigers.
The game (7 p.m. kickoff) will not be played at Shadyside High School; it will be at a nearby middle school (please see related story in this “Game Night Countdown” section) where the high school field is located.
Last season, the Chiefs took extended trips to Loudonville and Portsmouth as part of a schedule that saw them travel more than 800 round-trip miles while playing six of their 10 games away from home.
The 2015 schedule — at least up to this point — has been much kinder.
No such luxury this week. A roughly 250-mile round trip begins around 12:30 p.m. Friday for the Chiefs and their traveling party, with a lunch stop roughly halfway to their destination.
Head coach Billy Burke doesn’t mind taking such trips once in awhile. Last year’s schedule was a killer, though, as Loudonville and Portsmouth were played 14 days apart.
“The thing I like about these trips is the extra time spent together,” Burke said. “We do practice every day together, but this is a time to be together as a team and not necessarily have the responsibility of being asked to perform in practice. We can get on a road trip and hang out on the bus and kids do what kids do when they hang out.
“It will be a fun experience to go to a different part of the state,” he continued. “I’ve never been to Shadyside. I’ve never really been to that part of the state south of Wheeling. It’s going to be a great experience, but we have to stay focused on the reason we’re there — to play a football game — and I think we will do that.”
While the host Tigers are just 1-4, they are a perennial post-season Division VII playoff participant. And that win came last week when they knocked off previously-undefeated Toronto 14-9, vaulting them (even with just one win) all the way to No. 15 in D7 Region 25, on the fringes of playoff contention.
It’s not inconceivable that Shadyside could make the D7 playoffs with a 4-6 or even a 3-7 record, depending upon what teams they defeat the rest of the way. The Chiefs are determined not to be one of those teams.
“I don’t think we have room to say it’s a ‘gimme’ because there are a bunch of things we can still get better at as a team as we prepare for the second half of the season,” Burke said. “There’s a lot of things we have to work on. There’s a fine line between focusing on strengthening your weaknesses and preparing for the opponent and what they do well or try and exploit what they don’t do well.
“We have to continue to clean up some things we need to do better — (and) play better defense is obviously one of them,” he added. “We had a good, hard, tough, honest film session Saturday morning (after the previous night’s 41-28 win at Nelsonville-York), and I think some kids saw that one more step, or one more half-second of effort, and they would have turned a play into a big play for us instead of a great gain for them. There were too many times last week where down-and-distance was in our favor and we gave up” a first down or even a touchdown.
One instance was particularly disturbing to the coaching staff.
“One that comes to mind was a third-and-12 when we bit on a run fake — you don’t bite on a run-fake when it’s third-and-12,” Burke said. “You respect it, but you aren’t playing the run first because you can make a tackle for an 8-yard gain and it’s still fourth down.
“Those are the nuances of the game, situations that are hard to work on in practice,” he added. “That’s kids seeing and understanding from Saturday morning that this situation calls for this sort of mentality.”
Shadyside is an unpredictable team on offense, and to that end Burke — the Chiefs’ defensive coordinator as well as head coach — has made a bit of a switch when it comes to how Logan’s “D” will approach the Tigers.
“I’m going to back off a little bit on my calls on defense and put the ball in the kids’ hands, so to say, where they see what Shadyside is giving us,” Burke noted. “They will be responsible for getting us in the proper front and the proper coverage (while) not necessarily looking to me (to call a defense).
“I don’t know who’s owning this defense right now as a player — we have a handful of guys who only play defense; you would assume it would be one of them who steps up and takes the reigns, and we haven’t done that yet — so I’m trying to put them in position to step up and assume responsibility,” he added.
However, Shadyside has only scored 26 points all season. The Tigers have been shut out twice, but not because they haven’t tried different looks and schemes.
“They look a little bit different each and every week,” Burke revealed. “You don’t know what you’re preparing for, and that’s why I want the kids to assume the responsibility (during the course of play). I just can’t put my finger on what they’re going to do offensively, so our kids have to be ready and just play football.
“They might shift to a whole other formation; they might motion; they might line up in three backs; they might go empty (backfield),” he added. “It’s a wide array of styles and philosophies. Ultimately, our defenders on the field have to get us aligned and in proper coverage.”
Welcome back: Senior Corey Wilson, who missed the first five games with a shoulder injury, returned with a bang last Friday at N-Y, busting a 49-yard run up the middle late in the first quarter (he fumbled at the end, but Logan recovered) and also assisting on four tackles from his cornerback position.
Wilson “gives us more depth,” Burke noted. “Kyle Jacobsen has been coming along but he’s been hurt with a shoulder, so it’s nice to get another guy back.
“Corey had a solid game his first game back,” he added. “The structure of our coverage suits him pretty well. We got a player back on defense and we added some depth at running back.”
Welcome aboard: Transfer students Bryan Black (from California) and Christian Phillips (from Athens) became eligible to play this week. Both are seniors.
Black (uniform No. 22) is a 6-foot-2, 180-pound wide receiver/safety and Phillips (No. 65) is a 6-2, 280-pound offensive/defensive lineman. Both had to sit out the first half of the season in accordance with Ohio High School Athletic Association transfer rules.
They might find some playing time.
“You don’t want to practice those guys and take away reps from other guys,” Burke said, “but they still have to be ready to go. Once they become eligible they’re eligible to play” immediately.
Small school scheduling: Shadyside is one of the smallest schools the Chiefs have played in the modern era. It’s not something Logan wants to make a habit of doing — Shadyside is a one-time-only matchup — but it might be necessary due to increasing issues when it comes to simply filling out a 10-game schedule.
This game is a direct result of a shrinking SEOAL. Both teams needed a week-six game to fill out their respective schedules — Logan’s week-six game in recent years was Portsmouth, which left the SEOAL at the end of the 2014-15 school year — and agreed to the contest earlier this year. Shadyside will not make a return trip to Logan.
You have to go back to the 1980s to find teams as small as Division VII Shadyside on the Logan schedule. The Chiefs hosted Miller at Bill Sauer Field in 1982; played a home-and-away set with Cadiz (now Harrison Central) in 1983-84, and played Columbus Wehrle four times between 1983 and 1986.
Take me away, country roads: When it comes to the longest trip ever taken by a Logan football team, Shadyside is certainly in the ballpark. In some cases it probably depends upon how they got to where they were going, but it’s right up there with Ashland, Dayton (Logan played Dunbar High School at Welcome Stadium in 1984), Cadiz and Loudonville, not to mention former SEOAL foes Portsmouth and Ironton. And, back in the mid-1920s, Chieftain teams made trips to Hamilton (north of Cincinnati) and Ceredo-Kenova, West Virginia.