Chiefs look to maintain early-season momentum
By CRAIG DUNN Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
LOGAN — An all-out scoring shootout certainly wasn’t unexpected when the Logan Chieftains and Athens Bulldogs resumed an old-time football rivalry in last week’s season opener.
A record-smashing 61-49 decision (a Logan victory) wasn’t exactly what most pundits expected, however… but could it approach being the norm for a Chieftain team that showed it has a strong offensive line and lots of firepower behind it?
“I knew we had the right people in the right places, especially on offense,” said Logan coach Billy Burke, whose team compiled a single-game school-record 649 yards of total offense in snapping the Bulldogs’ 29-game regular-season winning streak.
“We have a receiver (Isaiah Smith) who scores three touchdowns, we have a running back (Bryce McBride) who scores three touchdowns, we got a couple long bombs (from quarterback Lane Little) and we have a fullback (Colton Stilwell) who went for two (TDs), so I knew we would have all those pieces in place on offense,” he added. “I knew our offensive line would be our way to go.”
Yes, but 61 points?
Having won their season opener for the first time in six years, the Chiefs will likely find out just how good they are when they open their home schedule — a three-game stretch of home contests, as a matter of fact — when they host Teays Valley Friday in Logan Chieftain Stadium.
Kickoff is 7 p.m. It will be Hall of Fame Night, and the Purple & White would love to put together another hall-of-fame offensive performance against the Vikings (1-0), who blanked Pickaway County rival Westfall 38-0 in their opener last week.
The 110 points the Chiefs and Bulldogs combined to score last Friday at Scott Riggs & Family Stadium are 14 more than the previous all-time high of 96 (Logan defeated Marietta 76-20 back in 2007) in nearly 1,000 Logan Chieftain football games (956, to be precise) played since 1912.
While the Chiefs certainly have the confidence that they can put points on the board, they also know Teays Valley — the only other Division II foe they will face this regular season — will likely be much stingier defensively.
“They’ll probably be a little more physical, especially from the linebacker positions,” Burke said of the Vikings. “They seem to be a little more aggressive on defense. I don’t think that was Athens’ style to be aggressive (on defense), but that’s Teays Valley’s style.
“I think we have a good game plan in place for that,” he added, “and the bottom line is if we can stay on schedule with those guys up front, (defensive) pressure or not, we’re the ones who are in the driver’s seat.”
Burke explains what he means to “stay on schedule.”
“When you have those horses up front, they can keep you on schedule,” Burke said. “What I mean by ‘on schedule’ is coach (offensive coordinator Brian) Breining has all of his play calls available when you get into third-and-long situations. Your calls are really, really condensed and there’s only a couple calls available — but if that offensive line can keep us on schedule, especially in the running game, if they can do that, that really opens up the playbook and makes everything available.”
The Chieftains converted 7-of-10 third-down situations last week en route to tying a school record with 27 first downs. They weren’t afraid to run on third-and-long and oftentimes succeeded.
“And a couple times we took some (deep passing) shots,” Burke noted. “I think it’s important that you take some shots during the course of the game because that 16-year-old corner out there has it in the back of his mind that ‘I can’t allow anybody to run by me.’ We have the speed on the edge with two guys who can run by.”
Three of senior Isaiah Smith’s four catches went for touchdowns last week — his 34.75 yards per catch was the fourth-highest single-game total in school history — and one of junior wideout Jenson Wallace’s four catches went for 51 yards down the middle.
In addition, McBride, Stilwell and Little combined to rush for six touchdowns, showing just how diverse the Chiefs can and will be offensively. They can mix things up in almost any situation.
“You can mix it up when you have the ability to do that,” Burke agreed. “We have (McBride) who can haul the mail and punish you when you try to tackle him. We have some receivers (Smith and Wallace) who can make plays, and probably most important of the whole bunch, a guy (Little) who is in charge on offense who can do all those things. Lane can execute the play-action game (and) the quick-pass game and he throws a good deep ball.
“So we have all the pieces… when we’re clicking, we’re obviously darn good.”
In a sense, however, the Chiefs have been here before, and it was just one year ago.
Logan scored 82 points in its first two games of the 2014 season but lost 43-42 (in double-overtime) to Lancaster and 44-40 the following week at Teays Valley, a game in which the Chiefs let a 10-point lead get away in the final six minutes.
TV was a game the Chiefs kicked themselves about all season — a game they felt they should have won — and they know they must avoid anything that leads to a week-two letdown against a quality foe Friday night. Teays Valley is one of six Logan opponents who made the post-season playoffs a year ago.
“If we weren’t such a mature team, I would be a little bit nervous about that,” Burke revealed. This is “where experience comes into play. We have a lot of kids who have been through some battles. It’s an understanding your opponent also practices, your opponent also hits the weight room (and) your opponent also has good players, so they’re going to make plays.
“As a football player you have to turn the page so that you say to yourself that you make the next play as opposed to dwelling on the last play,” he added. “We obviously did a pretty good job of turning the page (last Friday night) and looking forward to making that next play.”
In addition to the Vikings themselves, the Chiefs do have a couple internal concerns entering Friday night.
“We’ve had guys sick this week from the coaching staff down through the kids,” Burke said. “There’s been a little bug where guys have had to go home from school and guys have missed (practice). We need is to get everybody back and healthy so we can be at our best Friday night.
“We’ve had to look at how we do things just to make sure everybody’s physically ready to go,” he added. “That’s certainly a key: the more guys who can play for us, the better we’ll be. Teays Valley is probably similar to us in the sense they have a lot of guys who go both ways, so I’m sure they’re searching for depth, too, just like we are.”
The Chiefs are also without a couple seniors — defensive back Corey Wilson and linebacker Domonic Micochero — who missed the opening game with injuries.
“We have to do a good job with our substitutions,” Burke noted, “and when we put guys in the game making sure they are as fresh as they can be (and yet) also have the best guys on the field in critical situations.”
Tackling is another concern. Athens rang up 473 total yards (241 rushing, 232 passing) last week, and running back Zacciah Saltzman (five touchdown runs) and receiver Heath Wiseman both proved to be both elusive and tough to bring down.
Burke was asked if the end result was due the Bulldogs’ ability to make defenders miss or if Logan’s defense just didn’t get the job done.
“I think certainly it’s a combination,” Burke said. Athens is “pretty good offensively, and when you have to defend 53 1/3 (yards) of the field — sideline to sideline — there’s a lot of room out in space for guys to make moves and make people miss.
“We certainly need to improve on our tackling (and need to) get continued experience,” he added. “A lot of guys on defense that was their first substantial Friday night play, and that’s always a factor. We want to play physical and play hard but at the same time you also need to play under control. It’s hard to defend that much of the field and Athens certainly (used the field) well.”
It all comes down to one simply bottom line, however.
“They (the Bulldogs) have a good scheme and did some good things,” Burke said. “But most importantly, though, they scored less points than us.”
And, after all, that’s always supposed to be the bottom line.