Chiefs, Gales set for final meeting on gridiron
By CRAIG DUNN Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
LOGAN — So far as actual distance goes, the separation between the Logan and Lancaster high schools campuses is only about 20 miles.
However, when it comes to high school athletics — both in number of students and, more often than not, in the physical size of football players — the separation is usually much wider. Not only are they not on the same page, but they’re seldom even in the same chapter.
Thus, Friday night’s season opener between the Chieftains and Golden Gales will be — at least for the foreseeable future — the final time the two programs will meet on a varsity football field.
Game time in what is expected to be a packed Logan Chieftain Stadium is 7 p.m.
It will end not only the most-recent 11-year stretch — the Gales are 8-2 in season openers against the Chiefs since 2004 — but, in all likelihood, it will conclude a series that Lancaster has dominated (32-8-4) over the years.
It’s all because of size.
“Playing them (comes down to whoever) has the most bodies they can bring into the game,” said second-year Logan coach Billy Burke, himself a Lancaster High School graduate. “When you have the luxury of having a lot of guys on your football team — especially early in the year — when guys get tired, you can get them a break.
“We might not have that luxury,” he continued, “so we have to make sure we’re in great shape and that we’re really prepared. Our coaches (need to) do a great job substituting our guys very judiciously so we get them timely breaks to keep them as fresh as possible.”
The Gales (67 players in grades 10 through 12) have nearly 60 percent more personnel to work with than do the Chieftains (42). And while their physical heights and weights aren’t quite as humongous as in previous seasons, they still have 10 players listed at 240 pounds or better.
When the Ohio High School Athletic Association added a seventh playoff division prior to the 2013 season, Lancaster — one of the biggest schools in the state in terms of students — moved into a so-called “super division” consisting of the state’s 72 largest schools. Logan, meanwhile, is roughly middle-of-the-pack size-wise in Division II.
The difference both in numbers and in physical size almost always results in the Chiefs having to deal with injury issues after week one.
That was certainly the case last season when Logan had to almost start from scratch after losing starting quarterback Lane Little to an injury in the third quarter of the Gales’ 57-7 victory at Fulton Field.
Lancaster’s style of play has a lot to do with that. The Golden Gales are always a big, physical, smash-mouth football program under former NFL standout Rob Carpenter.
“I coached against Lancaster for several years when I was an assistant at Hilliard Darby,” Burke recalled, “and, on offense, they’re basically doing the same thing they’ve always done. They know you know what plays they’re going to run, but they’re going to out-physical and out-execute you. That’s their game plan.”
Not only does that mean the Chiefs have to be as physical as possible in return, but they also have to be intelligent when it comes to their approach to doing so.
“On defense we have to be disciplined about reading our keys, because there are keys in that style of offense that help you find the football,” Burke said. “The thing our kids need to understand is that you’re not looking for the football; you’re reading a key. After you read that key and you move, then you find the football.
“That’s hard to replicate with a group of younger guys or a scout team,” he continued. “It’s hard to replicate what it looks like coming from them until you actually see it live… and then hopefully we can hold our ground until we get comfortable with what we’re seeing. It’s that initial shock factor of the increased speed of a different style of offense that’s hard to deal with.”
Not that playing the Gales would be easy anytime during the season, but facing them at the outset of the year — when the weather is warmer and an inexperienced team can be easier exploited — makes the task all the more difficult.
But even if they wanted to square off later in the season, the Gales play their Ohio Capital Conference Ohio Division schedule the final seven weeks of the season, so that wouldn’t happen.
Starting next fall, Athens will take Lancaster’s place as the Chiefs’ season opener for at least the next two years.
With the exception of last Friday’s final scrimmage at Sheridan, Burke was pleased with the progress his team made in the weeks leading up tomorrow night’s opener.
“We’re in the process of learning how to play,” Burke said. “I believe we’ve gotten better each week. We’ve added a different dimension to each scrimmage. Last week (at Sheridan) I thought we played a little under our capabilities. We had some mental mistakes that we shouldn’t have had and we’re addressing those things this week.
“Friday will be the real test,” he continued. “I told the kids that (Sheridan) was a mulligan and it didn’t count, so we need to correct the mistakes we’ve made because (this week) it counts for real.”
Burke noted the Chiefs had a difficult time making adjustments under mostly-regulation game conditions at Sheridan.
“In the first two scrimmages the coaches were allowed on the field and we could reinforce ideas with the kids,” Burke said. Sheridan “was truly a game situation where (the coaches) weren’t on the field (so) they had to sink or swim by themselves.
“Guys have to step up and be leaders out there, calm everybody down or supply some emotion if it’s needed,” he continued. “I think the kids learned a lot of about themselves and about each other. When it’s a (real) game, they only have those 11 who are on the field at the time and nobody else can bail them out.”
Burke and his coaching staff are thus using the Sheridan scrimmage as a teaching tool.
“Sometimes that’s a good way to go back and look at some things that maybe you were taking for granted simply because you were playing well,” Burke stated. “It points those things out and you’re forced to go back and re-assess and re-address some things. That’s what we’ve done. We went back and looked at some things and maybe it opened up some kids’ eyes to some things that we need to do better.
“We made some plays on busted plays (at Sheridan), and that’s not what we want to do,” he added. “We’re going to let our kids make plays… but imagine how much easier it is if we execute and we allow ourselves to make plays as part of execution as opposed to things breaking down and (being forced to make) plays.”
But Burke also admits that “it is really encouraging to know that if things do break down we have guys who can make plays.”
Little attempted 24 passes in Friday’s scrimmage and, although the Chiefs will be primarily a passing team, Burke still wants a better offensive balance if at all possible.
“We made an emphasis this week that we have to run the football,” Burke pointed out. “If you look at teams who are playing deep into November and early December, those teams run the football. You have to have balance.”
All in all, though, Burke is pleased with where his team is as they prepare to start the season and play a rivalry game for the last time.
“We’ve had our peaks and valleys,” Burke said, “but we’re steadily climbing and that’s what you look for when you’re assessing your football team this early in the year.
“When schools have such close proximity, the kids know each other from other sports, or sometimes in a social setting, or are even related to each other,” he added. “You always want those bragging rights. This will be the last time we play (Lancaster) for however long it is. When you bump into people you competed against, you want to say that you won that last game.”