Chiefs hope long road trip pays off with a big W
By CRAIG DUNN Sports Editor email@example.com
LOGAN — There’s no getting around it: the Logan Chieftains are facing a long road trip this Friday.
But if the Purple & White can come close to duplicating last week’s breakout performance, they can certainly make it worth their while.
Kickoff at Loudonville High School — every bit of a two-hour drive even if you’re not traveling by school bus — is 7 p.m.
“You’re always worried about long trips as a high school coach,” Logan coach Billy Burke admitted earlier this week. “I’ve been a member of teams and staffs that did fine when we went on long road trips — and had other times where we didn’t do so well.
“What I try to do is take the 'ooh' and the 'aah' out of the trip before the kids can,” he added. “I’ve taken teams places and said ‘we’re not going to Kings Island. We’re not going to Cedar Point. We’re going to play a football game,’ and take the edge out of where we’re going or (in going to) a brand-new place we’ve never been before.”
Loudonville (3-0), ranked No. 7 in Division VI of this week’s inaugural state Associated Press football poll, has not allowed a point since its season opener.
The Redbirds have won their last two games via shutout — 79-0 over Ashland Crestview and 31-0 over Jeromesville Hillsdale — and have allowed only 14 points all season. Those came in their 45-14 season-opening rout of Sparta Highland.
It would be a huge mistake to downgrade the Redbirds just because they’re a Division VI (Loudonville was one of three schools in the state that dropped a playoff division prior to the season) school in football. The ‘Birds can play defense… and that’s something to which the Chiefs can attest with first-hand knowledge.
Loudonville held the Purple & White to negative-6 total yards (minus-30 rushing, plus-24 passing) in defeating the Chiefs 31-7 last season in Logan Chieftain Stadium. Logan’s score was a defensive touchdown… a school-record 101-yard interception return by Evan DeLong.
“They commit to stopping the opponent’s running game, and I want to establish a running game,” Burke said, “so we need to find the right schemes X’s and O’s-wise to attack their defense so we can get a running game (please see this week’s Chieftain Notebook for more on that subject) going.
“We have the luxury of knowing we can throw the football, (so) if we can get the running game going we can set up with play-action and still have the ability to go down the field,” he continued. “We just have to have good pass protection.
“We’re more balanced now than we were a year ago, and more balanced than some of the teams Loudonville has faced the first couple of weeks. I like our chances against what is a pretty good defense.”
There are a lot of similarities with last year’s week-four game against the Redbirds.
“The scenario is almost identical to a year ago,” Burke pointed out. “Loudonville’s undefeated, they’ve played great defense, and they were doing the same thing last year at the exact same time. It’s the same scenario as last year: we’re coming off (our first) win while they’re undefeated and we’re trying to get rolling.”
There is one glaring difference, however: heading into week four last season, the Chiefs were still a team in transition and still making adjustments on offense. The current Chiefs are a little more established.
“There is the exception that we are probably a little more put-together as a football team than we were a year ago,” the Logan coach agreed. “We had a personnel situation late in the week last year that caused us to have to re-arrange some guys on defense especially.
“There were guys playing significantly out of position last year (at that time) on defense,” he continued, “and (the Redbirds) started to get us in the second half . With guys playing out of position, that’s going to happen. We feel pretty good about guys being comfortable in their roles right now on defense.”
Friday marks the Chiefs’ third-straight game away from Logan Chieftain Stadium… and they still have three more (at Southeastern Ohio Athletic League foes Portsmouth, Jackson and Warren) the second half of the season.
Friday’s long bus trip is being broken into two parts.
They’ll leave LHS at 12:30 p.m. and arrive at Denison University in Granville around 1:45, where they will have a walk-through, then will eat lunch before departing Denison around 3:30 for an expected 5 p.m. arrival at Loudonville High School.
A parent donated the funding to charter buses for the team, and a chartered Pep Club bus — with funding from the “Celebrate My Drive” initiative through State Farm Insurance — is taking Logan students to Ashland County.
“Our plan is to stop halfway and do our normal walk-through that we do as part of our normal pre-game,” Burke said. “We can’t do it here at school, so we’re going to do it at Denison. We’ll get out and stretch our legs and get the kids busy and active.
“If you stay busy and active you don’t have downtime to get distracted, because then we’re on to the next thing,” he added. “After we leave Denison, it’s another hour and sort of like a traditional road trip for us (at that point). We’re breaking it up into two phases and taking some of the edge off the fact that it is a longer trip.”
Still, Burke and his staff understand there’s an excitement and anticipation factor as many members of the team travel to a destination far off their beaten path.
“We tend to forget these are 16- and 17-year-old kids and some of them haven’t been a whole lot of places,” Burke noted. “It is exciting to go a little further from home or to a college campus like Denison.
“But we as coaches and the ones in charge have to constantly remind the kids that they’re not going to make a memory out of a trip to Denison and a bus ride to Loudonville,” he added. “ ‘You’re going to make a memory out of how you perform and play, and coming out with a win against an opponent that was able to handle us pretty easily last year,’ ”
The Redbirds were good last season — they went 9-1 in the regular season, qualified for the state Division V playoffs and also won an opening-round contest — but they also caught the still-reeling Chiefs at an opportune time last fall.
“They came in at the right time (with) us coming off a win but not really at full strength,” Burke said. “We feel pretty good about where we are right now. They do some different things defensively and offensively that we’ve really had to game-plan and scheme for.
“The kids have handled the two road trips pretty well so far, and this is just one more,” he added. “They understood going into the season that we’re going to be on the road a lot. It’s kind of an ‘us-against-the-world’ mentality.”