Chiefs overcome rain, mud and Warriors
By CRAIG DUNN Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
VINCENT — On a chilly, rainy, muddy night when field position made all the difference in their football world, a couple tiny links of sideline chain helped the Logan Chieftains conclude their 2014 season with a victory.
Clinging to a seven-point lead with seven minutes remaining, the Purple & White stopped the Warren Warriors on a desperation fourth-down scramble at the Logan 1-yard line and held on for a 13-6 victory at soggy Warren High School.
“This was a do-what-you-gotta-do situation tonight,” said Logan coach Billy Burke, whose Chiefs finished their season with an all-square 5-5 record and placed runner-up (3-1) to Southeastern Ohio Athletic League champion Jackson.
“We had guys step in and play all kind of different positions that they don’t normally play,” he added. “I told the kids after the game it was sort of like how you think about a high school football movie — playing your last game and you get a stop on fourth down there deep. It’s raining, it’s muddy, all those clichés that come into play with a high school football game.”
Already missing two key players entering the game — quarterback Lane Little and running back/linebacker Bryce McBride — the Purple & White also lost their second-leading runner, Dean Jordan, to an ankle injury in the second stanza.
Jordan, who was fighting ankle problems all week, was originally going to get the bulk of the carries… and the Chiefs thus finished the game with all their regular skill-position players either out of the game or playing totally out of position.
Wide receiver Chance Cox played quarterback. Fellow WR Isaiah Smith lined up most of the night as a running back. Colton Stilwell played in the backfield and scored his first touchdown. Brandon Arnett got nine carries in the backfield; until last week, he hadn’t carried the ball all season.
And yet the Chiefs persevered and won.
“I give our guys a lot of credit,” Burke praised. “Chance stepping up, Brandon Arnett playing running back for us when he doesn’t normally do that, Stilwell playing linebacker. A lot of guys did a lot of different things to help us get that win.
“And here’s why: you only need one or two receivers or running backs — but you need five offensive linemen each and every play,” he added. “So we get all of our linemen back and we can use those guys who are healthy. We found a way to replace some of our skill guys, but having (all of) our linemen makes a difference. We had a solid group up front playing at full strength.”
All 19 points came in a frenzied span of 133 seconds in the second period.
With both teams primarily concentrating on running the ball on an extremely-muddy surface in a steady, chilly rain — surprisingly, despite the weather and field conditions, neither team committed a turnover — the Chiefs played the field position game almost to perfection to take the lead.
Three successive punts by Jordan forced the Warriors to start their first three possessions from their own 25-, 7- and 4-yard lines, with Jordan’s latter kick being a 26-yarder on the opening play of the second period that pinned the Warriors in the shadow of their own goal line.
The Logan defense — and, to be fair, the muddy field as well — forced the Warriors into three-straight three-and-outs to start the game, and the third resulted in a Warren punt that Smith returned 12 yards to the Warren 25.
“I always wished to play a game in the mud,” Smith said afterward.
He certainly got that wish Friday night.
“The coaches actually sprayed (cooking spray) on our shoes to help keep the mud off our cleats,” Smith revealed with a grin. “It actually worked for awhile — until you were out there for a long time; then all that mud gets on your shoes and it weighs you down.
“Coach put me at a different position tonight,” he added. “With Lane out of the game, and Chance (not being) really a throwing quarterback, he had me at running back. It was a different experience, but I did the best I could to help the team.”
He did catch a pass in the opening quarter, however — one of only two passes Cox completed in four tries — to extend his streak with a catch to 16 consecutive games.
Three plays after Smith’s punt return netted just three yards, so the Chiefs went for a first down on fourth-and-7 and struck paydirt (paymud?) when the Warriors were called for a pass interference penalty, giving Logan a first down at the Warren 12.
Stilwell had a 3-yard gain, then Cox got seven yards and a first down on a keeper to the Warren 2. From there, Stilwell took an inside handoff into the end zone for a 7-0 lead with 6:32 left in the second period after Smith — muddy shoe and all — booted the extra point.
But, when senior running back Jared Isner ran the ensuing kickoff back 27 yards to the Warren 34, the Warriors (1-9 overall, 0-4 SEOAL) finally got some decent field position to work with — and Isner proceeded to make it much better.
Isner had a couple runs totaling 13 yards — and Warren’s initial first down of the night — then added a 3-yard run before busting loose off left tackle for 49 yards. Logan’s Joe Foltz made a touchdown-saving diving tackle at the Logan 1, but Isner scored on the next play to make it 7-6. The Warriors went for a 2-point conversion but mis-handled a pitchout.
Cox then got all six of Isner’s points right back.
Taking the kickoff at his own 6-yard line, Cox took the path of least resistance — right up the middle — and had nary a hand laid on him as he went the 94-yard distance for a touchdown and a 13-6 Chiefs lead with 4:19 left in the second stanza.
“I’m pretty pumped about it,” Cox said afterward. “I had great blocking up front everywhere and there was a big hole, so I just took it.”
It’s a good thing he did, too, because the Logan offense would not cross the 50-yard line again the rest of the night. Logan was held to six first downs and 92 yards of total offense — but, as it turned out, it was just enough.
“There was no secret to what we were trying to do out there,” Burke said. “We were trying to get guys moving forward and tightened it down (by playing) field position. That was really important in the first half.
“We talked at halftime that it was kind of old-school football — just ground-it-and-pound-it,” he added. “Some people don’t believe in punts anymore, but because of the success we had in the first half with Dean punting the ball, that probably made the difference in the game.”
Not counting two kneel-down plays in the game’s final minute, there were only five offensive possessions in a quickly-played second half… and the Warriors came oh-so-close to cashing in the only real scoring threat.
After a Logan punt, the Warriors took over with 4:11 left in the third period and proceeded on what would be a 17-play, 66-yard drive that would last more than nine minutes… and come up empty.
Derrick Carey, a 247-pound senior running back, converted a fourth-and-1 with a 2-yard gain and quarterback Andrew Henthorn converted a pair of third downs — one with his legs and the other with a 7-yard dump-off pass to Jake Davis — as the game moved into the fourth period with the Warriors slowly grinding closer to the Logan goal line.
Like the Chiefs did in the first half, the Warriors got a first down on a Logan pass interference penalty to move to the LHS 11-yard line.
Tanner Huck gained five yards on a pitchout, but Chieftain lineman Brandon Skinner threw him for a 3-yard loss when the Warriors followed up with the same play. Henthorn then got four yards on a keeper to bring up fourth-and-four from the Logan 5.
Henthorn went back to pass but was forced to scramble and dove toward the pylon at the goal line but was brought down short by the Logan defense. Still, at first, it appeared that the ball was inside the 1-yard line, which would have meant first-and-goal for the Warriors.
But, when the chains were brought all the way across the field for a measurement, the Warriors were inches short and Logan took over.
“They got that nice long drive,” Burke noted, “but the bottom line was they didn’t get a chance to get in the end zone.
“In football, and defensively, there’s a philosophy of bend and don’t break, and what that means if you can make the offense snap the ball again something good can happen for you,” he added. “They can fumble the snap (or) throw an interception. We didn’t allow them in the end zone, so therefore you have to snap it again.
“If we go back to the make-them-snap-it-one-more-time philosophy in these conditions, the further you start away from the goal line the more times you’re going to have to snap the ball. There weren’t (any) turnovers, but the fact (was that neither) team could really throw the ball. This was real old-school football where a punt was a good play and you live to fight again playing defense.”
The defense did just that, and Cox led a nine-play, 36-yard drive that got the ball out of danger.
“Coming into the season I expected to play (mostly at) receiver,” Cox said. “They put me at wildcat (to run the ball) a couple times (earlier in the season). If my number’s called I’ve got to do what I can do best for the team.”
His number was called on an 18-yard keeper that picked up one of two first downs before Logan finally punted the ball away with just over two minutes remaining. Warren then went four-and-out from near midfield.
After a 5-yard loss and an incomplete pass, Smith made a key open-field tackle on Huck after a 7-yard gain on third down, then Casey Phillips and Brendan Karns knocked down a Henthorn desperation pass on fourth-and-eight, and the Chiefs ran out the clock.
The season thus came to an end for the Chiefs, who likely could have made the post-season Division II playoffs had they pulled out wins in their first two games of the season — losses to Lancaster and Teays Valley by a combined total of five points.
“You could easily fold your tent and be mad and complain and sulk that some things didn’t go our way that we thought should have,” Burke said, “but it doesn’t matter. You have to get up the next day and go to work and battle.
“We did that and were able to win two league games at the end of the year while a little shorthanded,” he added. “It’s a testament to these guys who always came to prepare and play every single day.”
And it also sent 14 seniors out with a memorable, muddy victory.
“I wasn’t here when they were freshmen,” Burke said, “but these seniors had more success representing themselves as seniors than they did as freshmen.
“Nobody’s going to be holding them to what they did as freshmen,” he added, “but they’ll be proud that they fought through a tough season to finish .500 as seniors and represented Logan football as leaders of the team.”