By CRAIG DUNN Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
LOGAN — It’s been four years since the Logan Chieftains have been involved in what could be termed a championship football game… and now, they get to play what amounts to not one, but two of them in eight days.
The Chieftains — make that the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League-leading Chieftains — travel to the Old French City on the Ohio River to battle longtime league rival and football nemesis Gallia Academy Friday (7:30 p.m. kickoff) needing just one win in their final two games to clinch no worse than a tie for the school’s 26th grid title.
At this point, however, “tie” could be classified as a four-letter word in the Chieftain locker room. Their eyes are on the prize — and, while obviously not looking past Gallipolis to their season finale next Friday against Warren, they want it all to themselves.
“It’s about controlling your own destiny. That’s what you want,” Burke said. “We are the ones who decide how things play out. We definitely want these two (games) so that we leave no doubt.
“I don’t think I’d allow something like (looking past Gallipolis) to happen,” he continued, “but we’re allowed to talk about the season. There’s nothing wrong with that. Each game we play (is) to give ourselves an opportunity to prove where we are as a program.”
The Chieftain program hopes to wipe out some of the memories of having won just six games the previous three seasons combined. They have four this season; two more would solidify the program’s new foundation.
Being the only undefeated team in conference play, Logan (4-4 overall, 2-0 SEOAL) is thus the only team that fully controls its championship destiny… and that’s exactly what the Purple & White have been playing for all season.
“I feel the overall attitude of the team (is that) we don’t quit,” said senior offensive/defensive lineman Caleb Myers. “In years past — and I’m included in this — (when) we’ve gotten down a touchdown or two, we’ve just given up. There was nothing there. This year we’ve been down but we’re not going to give up. We keep fighting until the game is over.
“It feels really good to be this close, and having the confidence we have feels good, too,” he continued. “For me, it’s crazy to think how fast it’s gone by already. I had never thought about it before, but it’s all coming down to the last two games (for Myers and his fellow seniors). How quickly it’s gone by. I’m really excited about these two games. (Winning the championship) is what the goal is, and I have complete confidence in the team.”
“We’re where we want to be,” Burke said. “You have to be real proud of this bunch of young men who have put the team — put the program — in this position (after) having already dealt with tough circumstances.
“We’ve had some ups and downs — and gotten it handed to us from time to time — but we’ve responded, either the next week or in the middle of a game,” he continued. “I think that says a lot more about us than wins and losses. It’s pretty easy to play hard and practice hard and come to work every day when things are going well, but how you respond when you’ve had ups and downs like we’ve had shows a lot about us.”
The Chiefs are coming off one of those downs. Undefeated Zanesville posted 672 total yards — a record amount of yardage against a Logan football team — in Logan’s 58-13 loss to the Blue Devils last Friday.
But they’ve put that defeat behind them and are focused squarely on Gallia Academy and taking care of league business.
“Coach Burke has the 24-hour rule to celebrate for 24 hours after you win or dwell on it for 24 hours after you lose,” Myers said. “After that, it’s on to the next week — and that’s what we did with the Zanesville game.”
“One way or another, we have to move on,” Burke said, “but at the same time, you have pride in your program, pride in what you do. It’s still tough to take one on the chin like that. It’s one thing if it’s a school that’s significantly larger, but (Zanesville) is a school in the same (playoff) region as us.
“We want to measure ourselves and get to where they are (and) we have to do a better job as a program,” he added, “but we still have to pick up and move on and go after this league championship.”
That means, of course, dealing with an entirely different set of Blue Devils — the defending league champions from Gallia Academy — tomorrow night.
The defending champs got a jolt last week when they committed five turnovers and lost 31-21 to visiting Warren at Memorial Field, muddying their chances at successfully defending their title. But they’re not out of it by any means.
Gallia Academy controls its title destiny, too, though it’s not as clearly defined as Logan. GAHS does no worse than tie by winning out and, with a couple other breaks, can also win the crown outright.
“Maybe Warren snuck up on them a little bit and came to play” last week, Burke noted, “and maybe (Gallipolis) didn’t handle it very well. Taking care of the football” is vital.
The Blue Devils are led by senior quarterback Wade Jarrell, who very easily could have been the SEOAL’s Player of the Year last season. He finished just behind the winner, Warren QB Dylan Leffingwell.
Asked to compare Jarrell to any QB the Chiefs have seen this season, “I would say you would pick out Loudonville,” Burke said.
Loudonville QB Kolton Edmondson only threw seven passes, completing four for 51 yards, but rushed for a team-high 156 yards in the Redbirds’ 31-7 week-four win at Logan Chieftain Stadium.
Gallipolis “does throw the football (and is) more spread than Zanesville was, but (Jarrell) is way more involved in the running game,” Burke pointed out. “I think the term is he’s an athlete at quarterback (with) the ability to throw the football. But, at the same time, if they can be successful with him running the football, I think that’s what they would rather do.”
Like Zanesville — and so many teams these days — Gallipolis is a spread-offense team.
“Even in this day and age of the spread, any coach will tell you that they want to play great defense, they want to take care of the football and run the clock on offense,” Burke stated. “That’s what they would want to do. It’s not as exciting, but that’s what you would rather do.
“Because of how our offense has played out this season, it’s something we have to do,” he added. “We don’t have the big-strike capability that a lot of teams have, so we have to take care of the football, work field position and control the clock so we don’t put our defense in tough positions.”
But the Chiefs certainly like being in the position of controlling their own championship destiny this late in the season.
“The kids should never forget it’s an opportunity to be out there and make some plays, get on a highlight reel and make memories for yourself,” Burke said. “If you allow yourself to overlook (an opponent) or take a week off, you don’t get those opportunities.
“I’d like to think that (getting pumped for championship games each of the next two weeks) is true with each and every game,” he added. “We’ve put a lot of time and energy into this. There’s a lot of sacrifice. It takes special people to be involved, whether as player or coach.”
Myers agreed with his coach.
“This is it,” Myers said. “I’ve played football since I was nine years old, and the moment I’ve been preparing for for so long is here. And that goes with most of the rest of the seniors who I’ve played with since we were little kids. It’s what everything has been for.
“It is a good feeling” to be in this position, he added. “It’s interesting being a senior this year because of the impact I feel we’ve had on the younger kids (and) to say we’ve been a part of their football careers.”
And to possibly make an impact on, and be a part of, Chieftain football history as well.