By CRAIG DUNN Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
LOGAN — Having already lost their composure once Friday night — and regaining it with a halftime of soul-searching — the Logan Chieftains weren't about to lose it again.
They had fought and clawed their way from behind to establish a 21-13 lead with a little more than three minutes remaining in their Southeastern Ohio Athletic League clash with visiting Jackson in Logan Chieftain Stadium, only to see the Ironmen tie the score with a near-miraculous touchdown drive and subsequent 2-point conversion with 58.3 seconds remaining.
But this band of Chieftains has proven to be a resilient bunch. Rather than settle for overtime, the Purple & White instead went 50 yards on just five plays — in just 36 seconds — to get a Nick Kost 7-yard TD run to stun the Ironmen, 28-21.
Logan committed four personal-foul penalties — two directly leading to a Jackson touchdown, the only score for either team in the first half — and admittedly had lost its composure.
But the Chiefs got their collective minds right at halftime, then came out and made a couple more big plays than the Ironmen (3-4, 1-1) in a key SEOAL showdown.
"I think you can say we lacked some composure in the first half, but I think we lacked composure because we had such high expectations of ourselves," said Logan coach Billy Burke. "And when it didn't go our way, we got into (committing penalties). But once we got that out of our system, we focused on what we needed to do, and obviously things turned around for us in the second half.
"As a coach, sometimes you have to make a decision of how you're going to address your team at halftime," he added. "You have to have a good vibe of what they need, to be nudged, or if they just need to re-focus. I wasn't sure what I wanted to say to them. But then I just talked to them as men — as players who had worked their tails off who faced some adversity where things didn't go right.
"We just said that we needed guys to step up, (for) our leaders to step up out there, and I walked out and left it up to them to say that 'it falls on us.' "
And that's exactly what the Chiefs did, according to Kost, who had a career night: two touchdown passes and two TD runs — the latter with 22.3 seconds remaining — to put the Chiefs ahead for good. He was 8-of-10 passing for 151 yards and rushed for 110 more on 15 carries.
"We were down because (the first half) didn't go our way," Kost said. "In the locker room we got on each other for the personal foul penalties. (Those) were unacceptable. We came out ready to go in the second half. I was proud of every single one of those linemen, and the receivers, everybody."
And it was indeed a total team effort in the second half. Despite only running 45 offensive plays (to Jackson's 74), and possessing the ball only 19:10 (to Jackson's 28:50), the Chiefs kick-started their offense and got a couple key stops on defense.
“It was a tough loss tonight," said Jackson coach Andy Hall. "Our kids were devastated after the game, which means they and our coaching staff care.
"Logan and Jackson, this is a heavyweight bout," he added. "Both teams come in running the football, not throwing it a whole lot, (and) you knew it was going to be a smash-mouth type game. It was a hard-fought, tough game and it was just too bad that we came out on the losing end."
Jackson took a 7-0 lead as the result of a 12-play, 73-yard first-half drive that culminated on Hunter Sexton's 1-yard quarterback sneak for a touchdown less than a minute into the second period. Logan had committed two 15-yard personal foul penalties on the drive to help it along.
Logan's Evan DeLong ran the ensuing kickoff back 42 yards to set the Chiefs up at midfield, but Logan fumbled the ball away at the Jackson 20 to end Logan's only scoring threat of the first half.
Meanwhile, Jackson had a late drive end deep in Logan territory on the final play of the half when Logan's Casey Phillips intercepted Sexton at the 5-yard line. He ran it back 22 yards and, when he was tackled, the half ended with offsetting personal foul penalties — appropriate for the chippy nature of the game in the first half.
Jackson then kicked the ball out of bounds to open the second half — an indicator of something that would come into play later — and the Chiefs went 65 yards on nine plays to tie the score.
Kost connected with sophomore Isiah Smith with a 23-yard catch-and-run on third down, then Bryce McBride converted another third down with a 29-yard ramble to the Jackson 9.
Moments later, after a penalty and on still another third-down play, Kost threw a beautiful pass into the back left corner of the end zone, where Smith made a leaping grab for a touchdown with 7:20 left in the third period. Charles Bowlby's extra-point kick made it 7-7.
"Once we scored, we knew momentum was back on our side," Kost said.
"I thought we came out with great intensity and dominated the game on both sides," Hall said. "You had the feeling like the score should have been 21-0 in our favor. We had a couple of drives stall in their territory, but I thought we played very good defense.
"In the second half, we allowed them to take the opening kickoff and go right down the field," he continued. "They nickle-and-dimed us and had a couple of nice pass completions. Next thing you know, it’s 7-7. We felt like we played our butts off, but it’s a tie ballgame.”
Undaunted, however, the Ironmen came back with a huge 16-play, 65-yard scoring drive, on which they converted two fourth-down plays, including a fourth-and-6 when Sexton connected with Jake Crabtree to the Logan 15-yard line.
Sexton would score moments later on another 1-yard QB sneak to make it 13-7 five seconds into the fourth period, but DeLong blocked Jimmy Voiles' PAT kick. That would be huge in the scope of things to come.
"The critical thing was that we blocked the PAT," Burke said. "There are tiny little things that go on out there that make a huge difference. Who would think one point would make that much of an impact on the game?"
That play brought some unpleasant thoughts to Hall's mind, for sure.
“When we score in the third quarter and miss the extra point, you think in the back of your mind Chillicothe (a 14-13 Jackson loss) all over again from last year," Hall said.
At one time or another, the Chiefs have had to rally to win every one of their games this season — none of them have been easy — and, with having regained their composure from the first-half debacle, they came back and scored almost immediately.
On third-and-five from their own 31-yard line, the Chiefs sent Smith deep down the left sideline. Although he was a 'wildcat' type of quarterback when pressed into duty as the full-time QB, Kost showed that he could heave the long ball and connected with Smith around the Jackson 30. Smith cut back toward the middle of the field and actually scored while completely crossing to the Logan side of the field to complete a 69-yard scoring play.
Bowlby's PAT kick then put the Chiefs in front with 11:06 to play.
"I looked off the safety because I knew the safety was going to go over to the right side where I looked," Kost said. "Isiah is a great receiver and I knew he would get by the defender and I threw it up there, he caught it and scored."
After forcing the Ironmen to punt, the Jackson defense returned the favor, but the Red and White fumbled the kick and Logan's Colton Wolfe recovered at the Jackson 24-yard line with 3:49 to play.
Kost then made the Ironmen pay, and it looked like the game was over, when he took the ball on a keeper around the right end, cut back toward the middle and scored with 3:31 remaining. It was 21-13 after Bowlby tacked on the PAT.
While you almost got the sense the Chiefs had scored too early, Burke was having none of that.
"Here's what I say to scoring too fast: No," Burke said emphatically. "If we're going to score, we're going to score. We're going to keep our momentum, and our tempo, and we're not going to try to sit on the clock. We're going to keep our pace and show that we feel good about the plays that we can make.
The Ironmen "made some plays toward the end of the game to tie it," he added.
"They score with three-and-a-half minutes to go and make the extra point and we’re down eight," Hall noted. "I told the kids that it was probably a blessing that they scored as quick as they did. We thought about if they were going to run the clock and make us burn our timeouts. So when they scored, it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. We had all three timeouts, so we said just come out and go down the field and get something going.
"We kept our composure," he added. "Hunter made some great throws, we had a couple of catches over the middle, and Hunter runs two counters to get us down in good field position. We get the touchdown and had the two-point play called, we get that and now we’re looking at overtime."
Two passes from Sexton to Reagan Williams, and a 24-yard scamper by Sexton, helped Jackson reach the Logan 20 with 1:31 left. But three plays netted just one yard, and Jackson faced fourth-and-9 and used its final timeout with 1:05 to go.
They got more than just a first down. Sexton avoided the defensive pressure long enough to find Crabtree cutting from the left side to the middle around the 3-yard line, and Crabtree got into the end zone for a 19-yard scoring play to pull within two.
But, because of that blocked PAT, Jackson had to go for two, and they got it — barely — when Gabe Griffiths caught a pass from Sexton at the goal line and reached the ball over the plane before being knocked backwards.
With the score thus tied 21-21, Jackson kicked the ball out of bounds again. However, Logan had the option of taking the ball on its own 35-yard line or taking a 5-yard penalty and making Jackson re-kick. The Chiefs chose the latter.
Isaac Schmeltzer then almost broke the return for six. He was pulled down at midfield with 50 seconds remaining.
"They had done that (kick out of bounds) earlier, so we said let's make them kick it (again). Let's play football and find out what our team can do against your team," Burke said. "That gives us another opportunity to touch the ball on special teams, and we obviously put ourselves in good field position."
That's not what Hall wanted to see.
"Our kickoff coverage team, we’re going to make some changes on that," Hall said. "We’re not covering the ball well. We kick it out of bounds on purpose, because we have no confidence in making plays."
A pass-and-lateral play from Kost to Phillips, who shoveled the ball to Schmeltzer, resulted in 10 yards and a first down, then Kost connected with DeLong in the left flat for 10 more.
Kost then took the ball on a keeper around the left side and went out of bounds at the Jackson 13, and when a Jackson player rode Kost all the way to the track surrounding the field, the resulting personal foul moved the ball to the Jackson 7.
Kost then rolled right and was going to pass, but he found some space to cut back to the middle and lunged into the end zone with 22.3 seconds remaining.
Burke had no intention of playing for a field goal if he didn't absolutely have to.
"I'm always thinking touchdown," Burke said. "We're never going to just settle for the field goal. A lot of credit goes to a lot of kids out there on that last drive. Nick Kost had a feel for what he thought he might be able to get, and was able to cut back two runs that were called (as pass plays). We say 'step up and make a play,' and he proved he could do that.
"I was supposed to be rolling out to the right (for a pass), but they kept overloading the right side," Kost said, "so I (saw) that, cut it back and saw a big hole and just took it. I knew I would get into the end zone for these guys" in the Logan locker room.
"In the second half, we didn’t make enough plays defensively," Hall stated. "Give Logan a lot of credit. Their quarterback, who is really not a quarterback but a running back, really made some plays, even with his arm which he hasn’t done all year. He threw some nice balls and got the long touchdown bomb behind our secondary right at the start of the fourth quarter.
"They made plays, and in the fourth quarter, I felt like our defense was looking for somebody else to make a play, instead of them stepping up and making a play," he continued. "Our youth showed a little bit, where these kids haven’t been in this situation before."
Jackson got the ball back for one last desperation possession, but Logan's Brock Emerson stopped Sexton twice — and got some help from Reggie Wesselhoeft in sacking Sexton on the final play of the game — to thwart any thoughts the Ironmen had of one last miracle.
"Our mentality has changed in the sense that we're focused on 'let's make a play,' as opposed to dwelling on the bad things that happened," said Burke, whose Chiefs have now won three-straight games (and four of their last five) for the first time since 2009. "We could have easily dwelled upon that touchdown and 2-point conversion, but we didn't."
The Chiefs have not only fought through adversity thus far, but have fought through it and succeeded.
"We absolutely have done that," Burke agreed. "And I gotta tell you, after the game I told the kids that 'I don't really know what to tell you right now.' And what I meant by that was that I'm just really proud. There's nothing I can say, because I didn't do anything. It's them who have said to themselves they've had enough of dwelling on the bad things that have, and can possibly, happen.
"Bad things always happen in a football game; you turn the page and make the next play. It's the kids enjoying the fact they competed and made plays for each other and I want them to enjoy it."
As has been documented, Burke has a policy of allowing his team 24 hours to enjoy a victory or dwell upon a loss... so would there be an exception as to how much the Chiefs would be able to enjoy this win before getting ready to play at undefeated (7-0) Zanesville next week?
"We're giving them Saturday morning off," Burke said. "The coaches will still work, but we'll let them get away. They won't have to watch any (Saturday morning) films. They'll get 24 full hours (to enjoy the victory) this time as opposed to being interrupted by any football."