By CRAIG DUNN Sports Editor email@example.com
LOGAN — Friday night's Logan-Newark football game in Logan Chieftain Stadium started 25 minutes late because the stadium lights went out.
The visiting Wildcats then stumbled around in the proverbial dark for about eight more minutes after the game began... and the host Chieftains took full advantage.
The Chiefs, who had struggled to score 20 points combined in their first two games, threw 19 on the board in less than eight minutes to take command. Talk about setting the tone for a football game.
The Wildcats (0-3) can call it bad luck all they want, but what it came down to was the Chieftains (1-2) were an opportunistic, resilient team that made huge plays all night long.
Senior quarterback Grant Russell was better than advertised for the Wildcats. He threw for 469 yards — the most passing yards any Logan team has ever allowed — and threw three touchdown passes to junior Darius Shackleford, who made a whopping 14 receptions for 269 yards.
(By contrast, while the Wildcats passed for 469 yards, they only ran the ball 15 times and, with four of those rushes resulting in sacks, were held to minus-16 yards on the ground. Compare that to the school-record 518 rushing yards the Chiefs relinquished to Lancaster in the season opener).
But when Russell was sacked by Logan's Reggie Wesselhoeft deep in Newark territory on the game's first play from scrimmage, and Keith Martin recovered the ensuing fumble, the Chiefs needed just one play from scrimmage (after two Newark offsides penalties) to take the lead just 19 seconds in.
"Looking at (Newark's) first two games, there was no doubt they were going to score some points and no doubt they would be able to throw the ball vertically down the field," said Billy Burke, who got his first victory as head coach of the Chieftains. "But what I'm most impressed with us is that we were a team basically held together by bubble gum, duct tape and chicken wire. We had a couple guys playing out of position here and there, lost a couple guys in the first half and (other) guys stepped up and got in there.
"We improvised," he added. "We drew a lot of stuff up in the dirt... but the bottom line is that we competed and that's what we've been looking for."
Senior running back Isaac Schmeltzer, who rushed for 180 yards and three Logan touchdowns, agreed with his coach.
The victory "means an awful lot," Schmeltzer said amidst the celebratory Chieftain locker room. "I haven't seen us work that hard for three years. I hope we keep improving and keep playing like that the rest of our games."
If they do, they'll be a handful.
Schmeltzer put the Chiefs ahead with a 3-yard scoring run with 11:41 left in the opening quarter (you can't score much quicker than that, maybe outside of a game-opening kickoff return) and scored again with 7:39 left in the opening stanza to cap a four-play, 56-yard drive.
Then, after Wesselhoeft once again sacked Russell and forced another fumble — Brock Emerson pounced on this one at the Newark 24-yard line — the Chiefs needed just three plays to reach paydirt.
Sophomore Bryce McBride broke an inside run 25 yards for a touchdown and, after Charles Bowlby booted the extra point, it was 19-0 Logan with 4:32 still to play in the first quarter.
The rout was on, right? Wrong. Newark not only made a game of it, but had a couple golden opportunities to take the lead.
The Chiefs weren't assured of victory until Gabe Smith sacked Russell at the Logan 44-yard line in the game's dying seconds.
"We were screaming at Gabe Smith the whole fourth quarter to get in a stance and rush the passer," Burke said, "and he does it on the very last play. That's the stuff we were looking for. I want guys who want to be selfish and go make plays for the benefit of our team, and we were able to do that."
The Chiefs, who had the ball for only 40 plays and less than 17 minutes in their loss to Teays Valley last week, had the ball for 30 minutes and 30 seconds against the Wildcats.
Good thing, too, because, considering Russell threw for 469 yards and the Wildcats only had the ball for 17:30, imagine what he might have done with even a few more minutes of ball possession.
"That's game-plan type of stuff," Burke said. "We know what's working for us and we know what's working for them. We wanted to keep them off the field and us on the field and run the clock, and we were able to control the ball. Hand it to the kids for that.
"Bottom line," he added, "we made plays."
So did Newark, particularly Russell and Shackelford... just not enough of them.
Russell scored on a 1-yard run in the final minute of the first quarter then, after a very good Logan drive ended with a missed field goal, Russell threw a beautiful deep ball down the left sideline, hit Shackleford in stride, and the 6-foot-3 junior took it to the house for a 63-yard score to draw the Wildcats within 19-14 with 4:33 left in the half.
Schmeltzer then broke the ensuing kickoff for 60 yards, but most of the yardage was wiped out on a holding penalty.
Undaunted, the Chiefs put together another lengthy, time-chewing drive, and scored with 15 seconds left in the half on a 1-yard QB sneak by Nick Kost. McBride had a couple key runs but was injured during the drive and never returned.
Kost and Schmeltzer then did the bulk of the ground work as the Chiefs battled both the Wildcats and the clock to get on the scoreboard again just before halftime.
Kost also cleared the century mark in rushing — he had 105 yards on 25 attempts — as Logan rushed for 331 yards and tore open some excellent holes.
"We did some basic things but, at the same time, we went about doing some basic things a little bit different tonight," Burke revealed. "We motioned some kids, we were in some different backfield sets, Isaac hauled the mail and we asked Nick Kost to do a lot of it, too.
"But one thing people don't realize is some of the hole-opening blocks and kickouts that Austin Scarberry had," he added. "We saw at least twice where his kickout block (landed a Newark player) on his butt."
The Wildcats returned the turnover favor at the outset of the second half when Schmeltzer fumbled after a long run — it appeared the ball came out late, but the men in striped disagreed — and Newark took over on its own 42.
Three plays later, Russell and Shackleford hooked up on a 43-yard scoring play, and the Wildcats were within 26-21 with 10:27 left in the third period.
Then, after forcing Logan's first punt of the night, the Wildcats were on the drive again. They had just crossed midfield when the Chiefs' Tommy Hayden deflected a Russell pass and Dean Jordan picked it off, running it back 33 yards to the Newark 18.
That set up a short four-play scoring drive, capped by a Schmeltzer 8-yard TD run with 5:54 left in the third period, and the Chiefs led 32-21 after a 2-point conversion play failed.
"There was a tipped ball and Dean Jordan gets (what turned into) a free touchdown... and that's the difference in the game," Burke said.
Newark came right back, though, driving 69 yards on eight plays for a score with 3:36 remaining in the third stanza when Russell and Shackleford hooked up for a third touchdown, this one a sweet 15-yarder over the middle, closing the gap to 32-27.
That would be the final time either team scored.
Ironically, when the Wildcats beat the Chiefs 35-32 in a wild game last season in Newark, the final points of that game were scored with 4:07 left in the third stanza.
After the Chiefs were stopped on fourth-and-inches from the Newark 11-yard line in the final seconds of the third period, the Wildcats would have the ball three more times, getting inside the Logan 35-yard line all three times, and come up totally empty.
Talk about making big plays. On second-and-9 from the Logan 24, Russell had a pass over the middle intercepted by a lunging Brandon Arnett at the 7 to keep Newark out of the end zone.
The Chiefs then embarked on another time-consuming drive, this time keeping the ball for 12 plays, registering three first downs and eating up more than seven minutes of clock, before punting the ball away with four minutes to play.
Twice Russell just missed connecting with junior receiver Khayle Woods on bombs down the middle, either one of which would have given the Wildcats the lead. Newark was eventually forced to punt with three minutes to play, and Logan punted it back with 1:24 remaining.
With Newark out of timeouts, Russell and Shackleford connected on four pass plays as Newark worked its way to the Logan 34 with under 15 seconds left. But the last-ditch effort died when Smith threw Russell to the ground with five seconds left and the Wildcats didn't have nearly enough time to set up for another play.
With more players headed to the infirmary, the Chiefs needed others to step up and make big plays... and Schmeltzer was pleased with how his teammates did just that.
"It was amazing," Schmeltzer said. "That's what it made it possible to win this game. This will give our guys a lot of confidence and a lot of energy (going into) the next game."
The Chiefs finally got to see a reward for all of the hard work they've put in over the summer. It was just Logan's seventh victory in 33 games dating back to the beginning of the 2010 season, and the Chiefs got to enjoy ringing the victory bell on their way to the locker room.
"What the kids see is what it looks like, and what it feels like, to leave it all out on the field," Burke praised. "I don't know if we did that the first two weeks. We competed hard, but there's a different feeling that you get when you think you've left every ounce of whatever it is you have out on the football field. I miss those things as a player myself.
"Who goes to work and doesn't ever collect a paycheck?" he continued. "It's nice to work all week long and show up on Friday and your boss comes around and gives you your paycheck. That's what wins in football are like; you put all that hard work in all week, and you want to get that win, which is your paycheck for that week of work."
The Chiefs also got a chance to see what they are capable of doing after playing two very solid opponents, Lancaster and Teays Valley, to open the season.
"I guess this bunch has what I call stick-to-it-iveness," Burke said. "I've said it before... they're bringing their hard hats and their lunch pails every single day, and going to work. We'll have to do that again next week, probably for a different dynamic coming from Loudonville. We've shown we're up to the challenge for whatever is in front of us.
"I think we learned some more about ourselves tonight," he added.
Since the game both kicked off late and ended late, Burke's 24-hour rule to celebrate a win or dwell on a loss now goes a little deeper into Saturday night.
"Twenty-four hours goes till about 10:30 or 11" Saturday, Burke said with a grin, "instead of 9:30 or 10 like usual."