One last football trip to the Old French City
By CRAIG DUNN Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
LOGAN — There will be plenty of time for nostalgia later; right now, the Logan Chieftains simply need to win a football game no matter what team they’re lining up against.
Having dropped back-to-back games — albeit to a pair of state-ranked Division III teams — the Purple & White (6-2) look to rebound Friday night when they make their final football trip to Gallipolis for one last Southeastern Ohio Athletic League clash with the Blue Devils.
Game time at Gallia Academy’s historic Memorial Field is 7 p.m.
A charter member of the SEOAL, Gallia Academy High School is leaving the league at the end of the current school year.
GAHS will join the Ohio Valley Conference (which already includes former SEOAL members Portsmouth and Ironton) and, come the 2016 season, will not be on the Logan football schedule for the first time since 1936.
History and tradition thus take a back seat to reality. As a school district, Gallia Academy is getting smaller and is, by far, the smallest school in the four-team SEOAL; next year, GAHS will be the largest school in the OVC.
On paper, this game looks to be a mismatch. The Blue Devils (1-7), who have been outscored 279-120, earned their first victory of the season last week — and broke a nine-game losing streak — by winning their final league clash with Warren (0-8) 31-14 in a meeting of then-two winless teams in the Old French City.
So it’s ironic that the Chiefs, who won their first six games of the season — and had won eight-consecutive contests dating back to a week-nine victory over the Blue Devils last fall — enter Friday night coming off a pair of losses while the Blue Devils take the field having won their previous outing.
“As we (the coaches) have told the kids, if that’s the case — if we’re better on paper — then darn it, we better play like it,” said Logan coach Billy Burke. “That’s our expectation, especially if our expectation is to put ourselves into the playoffs.
“Obviously we have to win out to do that,” he added, “but at the same time (also) continue to develop and work on the mentality that it takes to be a top-notch championship football team. You have to have some edge and some ‘it’ factor when you play.”
The Purple & White need to get their swagger back after losing the last two weeks to Jackson and Columbus DeSales, a pair of state-ranked 7-1 teams.
“Swagger is a very good word,” Burke stated. “Sometimes we lose sight of that you have to have a certain edge out on the football field.
“I heard (former NFL player) Tiki Barber talk about the running back for the Jets that he runs angry,” he added. “Whatever that guy has developed to make himself a great player, the edge that he’s playing with (is) hard to teach and hard to coach.
Sometimes we have to find within ourselves what our edge is and how to play angry.
“If we could teach it I’d want to learn how. But having said that, we have to come ready to play and play for each other. For some of these guys these are the last times they’re going to get these opportunities. They have to leave it all out there.”
On-paper mismatch or not, the Purple & White need to win their final two games — they host Warren in their regular-season finale next Friday — and get a lot of help to keep alive their slim post-season Division II playoff hopes which, according to one website, lists them at just five percent.
The Chiefs are seventh in Region 5 and need to stay in the top eight to reach the post-season. With Gallipolis and Warren having combined for just one victory, the Purple & White don’t stand to pick up many more playoff points the rest of the way, and there are several teams behind them poised to pass them either by winning out or by winning a key game.
When making some obvious on-the-field comparisons, the Chieftains will be to the Blue Devils this Friday what the Stallions were to the Chieftains last Friday.
“It’s a little bit cliché, but it never matters who you are playing; what ultimately matters is performing your job to the best of your ability,” Burke said. “Not because you want to win so badly — you get blinded by that sometimes, or sometimes you take a team so lightly you get blinded by that — that you don’t do what makes you successful, for example reading keys, or running a route to the proper depth, or taking the proper step.
“Sometimes when you don’t take a team serious, or you take a team too serious, you get blinded and don’t do the little things that make you successful,” he added.
The Purple & White certainly took the Stallions seriously last week.
“I thought our intentions were there (but) our execution physically lacked,” Burke pointed out. “I don’t know if that was an intimidation thing or what, but sometimes it comes down to an ‘it’ factor. We don’t know what ‘it’ is, but we know when kids have it. Other kids know when kids have it, but you don’t know how to describe it.
“(DeSales) had some kids with the ‘it’ factor, and we have kids with the ‘it’ factor too, but it’s a matter of playing like that the entire game,” he continued. “That’s the hardest thing to try and simulate (during preparation time), especially when you coach defense (against) an offensive scout team where our guys are younger and less-experienced than the guys they are going against.”
Bottom line: DeSales was a better team.
“I think we did a pretty good job of executing (the Stallions’) scheme, and for the most part defending and performing our responsibilities well,” Burke noted, “but it’s when your opponents are a little taller than you, a hair faster than you, and maybe a little more athletic than you by position (that) it’s like having an extra player out there on the field by the time you add it all up.”
By comparison, and with all due respect, the Blue Devils will not have such an ‘it’ factor going for them Friday night.
“If they were a little more competitive on paper, if they had had a little more success, or this is still a league title opportunity, then we would probably think about that a little bit,” Burke said. “We’re really focused on ourselves and making sure we finish right and put ourselves into an opportunity to make it to a week 11. It’s a goal we’ve set for ourselves and important to our seniors to get a chance to play in a week 11.
“From a defensive standpoint, you go from DeSales — we actually had more sacks (four) than they had completions (one) — to a (Gallipolis) team that is going to throw the ball all over the place,” he continued. “The quarterback is going to run it out of a spread look, which is dramatically different than we saw last week, so our kids have to be ready to play a different style of game.”
Of the 45 plays DeSales ran from scrimmage last week, 44 were on the ground. Don’t bet on that being the ratio when the Blue Devils have the ball this Friday night.
One thing getting a little lost in the shuffle is that, mathematically, Gallipolis can still win the league championship regardless of what they do against the Chieftains. Whether the Blue Devils win or lose Friday night, they will at least be playing for a share of the title next week at longtime rival Jackson.
While winning one of their final two games (let alone both) is a long shot, the Blue Devils still control their SEOAL championship destiny… something the Chiefs, who lost to Jackson 35-21 two weeks ago, do not.
“They’re coming off a win and it’s their Senior Night,” Burke said, “so we have to be ready.”
This will be the second (and final) time that 18 Chieftain seniors play a varsity football game on Memorial Field. Burke has fond memories of his only other visit to the Old French City.
“One of my favorite moments in coaching was when we were down there two years ago (Burke’s first season as head coach) and the spontaneity of our kids getting ready for the game and their kids come walking around the track to the game. Our kids were so excited,” Burke recalled. “It sort of felt like when you see on national TV like Florida and Florida State being in the tunnel next to each other and about to go at it.
“It was very fun and so spontaneous and our kids really enjoyed that moment,” he added. “That’s what I’m looking for going down there again: the genuine emotion and genuine excitement of playing a football game.”
It was a big game that night, too: the Chiefs won 35-21 to clinch a tie for the SEOAL title, then followed up with a victory over Warren the following week to claim the 2013 crown outright.
Burke is confident those senior leaders will not let the Chieftains take this game — or next week’s regular-season finale with Warren — lightly.
“I think these guys have done a pretty good job buying into the concepts we’re trying to teach,” Burke said. “Sometimes a wakeup call is what’s needed to believe, and I certainly hope we don’t need a wakeup call Friday night.
“You have to learn lessons from your losses,” he added. “You have to take everything you do as a learning experience, and sometimes wins are harder to take those learning experiences from because you won and a weakness that you have wasn’t exploited by an opponent and you don’t know that you need to work on it.”