Chiefs finish first half of season undefeated
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Buckeyes make late run, but it's not enough as Logan holds on for 41-28 victory over Nelsonville-York
By CRAIG DUNN Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
NELSONVILLE — It was the fifth-straight victory to open the football season for one team and the fourth-consecutive setback for the other.
But in a sense, it wasn’t whether they won or lost; it was how the two teams played the game that left the final impression on their respective head coaches.
“We just have to make more plays,” Logan coach Billy Burke said after his undefeated Chieftains defeated the Nelsonville-York Buckeyes 41-28 Friday night at Boston Field. “Sometimes it’s up to a young man to step up and make a play, and sometimes they make plays and you don’t even know where it came from. That’s the term ‘gamer’ — and when the lights are on you have to be a gamer.”
It marked the end of a tumultuous week for the Buckeyes. Their longtime head coach, Dave Boston Jr., resigned on Monday after an incident involving an assistant coach during last Friday’s game against River Valley, and it was up to interim head coach Earich Dean to circle the wagons and get the Buckeyes ready for a rivalry game with the Purple & White.
“I can’t say enough about this football team tonight,” Dean praised. “They worked hard all week, and it showed tonight. I’m extremely proud of these kids. We’ve had a long week. They started believing in themselves” in the second half.
Colton Stilwell’s 2-yard scoring run and Stu Harper’s subsequent extra-point kick put the Chiefs ahead 27-6 with 6:34 remaining in the second quarter — Logan scored on its first four possessions, including Wallace’s KO return burst up the middle late in the opening period — and it looked like the Chiefs were getting themselves into position for a running-clock (30-point differential) second half.
But N-Y countered, going 78 yards on 13 plays and keeping the ball for five minutes in driving to paydirt. Junior quarterback Hunter Edwards passed for four first downs before, on fourth-and-eight from the Logan 11, scrambling to buy enough time to connect with fellow junior Aron Davis in the back of the end zone with 1:34 left in the half.
Edwards — who, like Logan’s Lane Little, threw a trio of touchdown passes — scrambled for 23 and 21 yards on the Buckeyes’ final possession of the half before a Kory Henthorne sack finally brought the half to an end. It was a sign of things to come.
The Buckeyes then drove deep into Chieftain territory on all five of their second-half possessions. They came up empty the first three times and saw Logan defensive back Brendan Karns intercept a deflected Edwards pass inside the Logan 5-yard line less than two minutes into the third quarter.
“We didn’t get lax,” Burke said. “We (weren’t) making fundamental plays on defense. We’ve been working our tails off (in practice) doing those things. But at some point it comes down to a guy with a uniform on, shoulder pads and helmet, who runs out there and makes some plays that can’t always be structured for him to make. We weren’t making those plays.”
The Chiefs did, however, turn Karns’ pickoff into a crucial 14-point swing.
Little drove Logan 74 yards on just six plays — completing key first-down passes along the way to Isaiah Smith and Brady Walsh — before hitting Wallace for a 31-yard TD pass with 8:34 left in the third period.
The next N-Y drive stalled on downs at the Logan 9-yard line, then a 10-play Buckeye drive died on downs at the Logan 19 early in the final period.
Two plays later, Little connected with Smith on a swing pass in the left flat. Showing no ill effects from last week — when he was held out of the last three quarters against Cambridge as a precautionary measure against a possible concussion — Smith broke a tackle and went 72 yards for six points with 7:51 remaining.
Harper — a soccer goalkeeper playing in his first-ever football game — drilled his fifth extra point in six attempts, and the Chiefs led 41-14.
“We had three drives inside the 20 we lost on downs and a turnover,” Dean said. “These kids clicked in that second half. They came in at halftime and regrouped and made changes. I’m just real proud of how they played tonight.”
Edwards drove the Bucks back downfield on the ensuing possession. Aided by a 15-yard personal foul penalty — the Chiefs were whistled for 120 yards’ worth of miscues — and a 12-yard first-down pass to Colt Yinger, Edwards got N-Y into the red zone again before calling his own number and scampering 19 yards for a touchdown with 5:28 remaining. He then connected with Davis on a 2-point conversion pass.
The Buckeyes then recovered a crazily-bouncing onside kick and scored again just five plays later. This time, Edwards and sophomore split end Chris Cook teamed up on a 23-yard TD pass with 3:37 remaining to draw N-Y within 41-28.
Logan recovered the ensuing onside kick, however, and picked up a pair of first downs to run out the clock.
“I’m very excited about where our kids have came from last week to this week,” Dean said. “They continue to want to play hard. We didn’t (have a letdown). We got down 41-14 and then we punched one in, got an onside kick and punched another one in, and before you know it it’s 41-28 and our kids are getting excited again.”
The Chiefs won, but they didn’t finish. That didn’t please Logan’s third-year coach.
“Guys (now have) enough game experience. You figure by week five everybody’s seasoned enough that they’re out there making plays, but we still have some work to do,” Burke stated.
As mentioned, the Chiefs started just fine.
Wallace — a junior who has come on as a dynamic playmaker — hauled in a 25-yard scoring pass from Little to conclude the game’s opening series, which went 65 yards on nine plays.
The Buckeyes bounced back with an Edwards-to-Davis 15-yard TD pass — a series aided by a 19-yard first-down run by junior Alex Mount and a subsequent Logan penalty for a late hit — but missed the PAT kick and trailed 7-6 when they kicked off with 4:08 left in the opening stanza.
Wallace took the kick at his own 11-yard line and, covering the ball with both arms, bulled his way up the middle through the heart of the N-Y return team — with no more than a hand or two touching him — and outraced them for an 89-yard touchdown jaunt.
“If you can get a defensive touchdown, or a special teams touchdown, that’s like free points,” said Burke. “We worked really hard on that return this week. I told the kids a couple days ago if we can get one of those free touchdowns, we can put up some points on offense — if we get a freebie on special teams, imagine what we can do — and we were able to do that.”
Senior running back Bryce McBride popped a 39-yard touchdown jaunt in the final minute to cap a 20-point Logan first quarter, and Stilwell’s scoring run came at the end of eight-play, 46-yard drive midway through the second period.
Dean liked what he saw from his Buckeyes and was also quite impressed with the Chieftains.
“That’s by far the best football team we’ve seen this year. Isaiah Smith on the corner… McBride… and Little is just so elusive. They’re a very talented team,” Dean lauded. “And I think our defense did a good job against them.”
Little completed three-fourths of his 20 passes for 254 yards and now has thrown 17 touchdown passes in just a half-season. Smith made a successful return to action with six receptions for 132 yards, Wallace caught five passes for 71 yards, and McBride ran for 113 yards, clearing triple figures for the fifth time this season.
Edwards was 13-of-25 passing for 143 yards, rushed for 123 more and, in one way or another, accounted for all 28 Buckeye points with three TD passes, a TD run, and a pair of 2-point conversion passes.
“We got (Tri-Valley Conference Ohio Division) games the rest of the year,” Dean said, “and I told (the players) the TVC is right there for us. The way we played tonight, a league title can still happen. Even a one-loss team can win this league.
“We’re real excited and real happy,” he added. “It’s a new week now and these kids have just gone through so much. They’re so resilient. They’ve really bought into some of the changes, and I’m just really happy for them.”
Going forward into the second half of the season — including a long non-conference trip to Shadyside next Friday night — Burke wants to see his defense make more plays to compliment what the offense is doing.
Ironically, Friday night’s 41-27 final score is reflective of the Chiefs’ per-game averages coming into the game: they were scoring 40.5 points per game while allowing 27.3.
Burke wants that latter number to come down.
“We need better linebacker play,” Burke said. “We just aren’t getting what we’re putting into it in practice — it’s not showing itself on the field on Friday nights. The coaches and I we have to do a better job coaching these guys up and getting them ready.”