Chiefs win wild season opener at Athens
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McBride rushes for 328 yards, Little and Smith team for three touchdowns in 61-49 victory
By CRAIG DUNN Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
THE PLAINS — Yes, the Logan Chieftains and Athens Bulldogs have a very historic football rivalry… but what the two teams did in their first meeting in eight years Friday night was off the charts when it comes to historical numbers.
The two teams combined for huge numbers — 110 points, 1,122 total yards, 53 first downs and 16 different touchdowns in Scott Riggs & Family Stadium, numbers that have never been approached since the two schools first met in 1914 — but, as far as the Chiefs are concerned, a simple number 1 will do just fine, thank you.
The Chiefs are 1-0 after winning a season opener for the first time since 2009 after an absolutely wild 61-49 victory at Athens High School.
Logan threw 27 points on the scoreboard in the first quarter alone — they led 13-0 before Athens even touched the ball after scoring, recovering an onside kick and getting another quick touchdown — but the Bulldogs battled back to draw even at 27-27 late in the first half.
Senior Bryce McBride broke a 41-yard touchdown run with 1:26 left in the first half then, after the 'Dogs fumbled the ball away, quarterback Lane Little hooked up with fellow senior Isaiah Smith on a jump-ball 26-yard scoring pass in the back right corner of the end zone 21 seconds later for a 41-27 halftime lead.
"Isn't that what you would expect from a team that played for a state championship last year?" third-year head coach Billy Burke said of the Bulldogs. "They're not going to lay down just because they lost some guys.
"It was a hard-fought battle and I'm so proud of our kids," he added. "We easily could have went 'oh, man, here we go' anytime we had one of those momentum shifts. We came back on offense and went with what we are good at —our guys up front on the offensive line. That was the difference in the game tonight."
McBride rushed for 328 yards — the second-best single-game total in school history — on 31 carries, three touchdowns and a 2-point conversion. Little threw three touchdown passes — all to Smith — and accounted for 225 passing yards, 139 to Smith and 86 more to Jenson Wallace.
Logan set a single-game school record with 649 yards of total offense and tied a school mark with 27 first downs. The combined total of 110 points between the two teams is a Logan record, and 61 points is the fourth-most the Chiefs have ever scored in a season opener.
The 49 points scored by Athens is the third-most points the Chiefs have ever allowed in the opening game of a season… but, hey, it wasn't enough.
Athens running back Zacciah Saltzman ran for 153 yards and five touchdowns and he and receivers such as Heath Wiseman were incredibly elusive and hard to bring down. The Bulldogs are still going to be a threat this fall, no doubt about it.
"We knew that," Burke said. "I hate to go to this, but we need to work on being able to make some plays (tackles) in the open field on defense. That's just not good enough the way we went to our knees… that's something we've worked on and worked on and worked on. That's going to be an emphasis in practice this week, for sure.
"But when I look out there, we have a lot of guys this is their first varsity game," he added. "That's no excuse, but at the same time these guys had to get the jitters out and get their feet wet and experience the craziness of a Friday night.
“Our inexperience got exposed a little bit," said Athens coach Ryan Adams, who played in several Logan-Athens battles in his football career. "I don’t know if we could have faced a better opponent to expose it.
“We’ve simply got to get better with a lot of younger players," he added, "but tip your hat, they’re a big, physical football team. We were hoping their bigs would wear down and wear out, but they did a great job of rotating their players up front to keep them fresh enough to get the job done.”
Which has been the Chiefs' plan from the outset of summer camp.
That line opened holes for McBride and he found them, using his strength and breakaway speed to get to the next level of Athens defenders. And when McBride wasn't running the ball, fellow senior Colton Stilwell (69 yards on 14 attempts) stepped up and filled in with several quality runs.
“I love that type of runner," Adams said of McBride. "He gets such a great shoulder pad level that’s very level. You can’t get him at his knees, and a lot of guys can’t get that low. You’re going to end up kissing that shoulder pad and he makes you pay when he does it."
McBride tore an ACL in the next-to-last game of the 2014 season but Friday night looked like the vintage running back Chieftain Nation knows and loves.
"We certainly saw glimpses of the Bryce we know in (pre-season) scrimmages, but this was his game tonight, no doubt about that," Burke lauded. "I think he needs to take his offensive line out and buy them a hot dog or whatever he can afford. That's the guy we expected and that's the kind of plan we had in place this season. We knew he could haul the mail, and he certainly did that.
"One of things that makes our offense go is the versatility of Colton Stilwell," he added. "We ask him to block, we ask him to catch, and we called him tonight several times to run the ball for us. That keeps a defense really honest because it's not all focused on Bryce. If you want to focus on Bryce, Colton can do some damage behind that offensive line. He's a throwback type player that Logan is accustomed to."
Stilwell capped off a 10-play, 75-yard scoring drive with a 1-yard touchdown run with 7:45 left in the opening period and Smith booted the extra point. Kyle Jacobsen then recovered the ensuing short kickoff, and McBride scored on the fourth play of a 58-yard drive — on a 3-yard run — to make it 13-0. He had a 41-yard ramble to set up the touchdown.
Athens got the first of five Saltzman touchdowns on the next series, but on Logan's first play from scrimmage after that Little rolled to his left, hit Smith on the left sideline, and Smith took it to the house 75 yards away.
Logan led 27-14 after one period. Saltzman scored again on a 15-yard run, but Little capped off an 86-yard scoring drive with a 1-yard quarterback sneak with 10 seconds left in the quarter.
The Bulldogs battled back with a touchdown pass from Brandon Sano to Robert Dickelman and a Saltzman 3-yard scoring run to make it 27-27 with 5:07 left in the half.
However, on the seventh play of a 68-yard scoring drive, it was that man McBride who went off right tackle and scored from 41 yards out to put the Chiefs ahead to stay. Little's scoring pass to Smith a little later gave the Chiefs momentum heading into the second half.
Twice Athens scored in the second half to get within a touchdown, and twice the Chiefs came back with the equalizer. Smith and Little hooked up on another TD pass in the back of the end zone — this one from 25 yards — and McBride broke a 34-yard touchdown ramble to keep the Bulldogs at bay.
Athens wound up committing four turnovers — losing two fumbles and having a pair of passes picked off — while the Chiefs immediately recovered from their lone miscue.
The Bulldogs had pulled within 41-35 when Little and Wallace hooked up on a 15-yard pass play. Wallace fumbled and Athens recovered but, on the very next play, Sano went deep and Wallace atoned with an interception.
Athens never got the ball back with a chance to tie or take the lead again.
Smith "caught one of those fade routes and I said 'you're a bad dude,' " Burke said with a laugh. "And he truly is. Him being as good as he is, we hit a couple post patterns simply because of a lot of emphasis on him and Jenson Wallace steps right in… sort of like the Jerry Rice-John Taylor combo from the San Francisco 49ers. We'll take advantage of Jenson.
"I have to give (Wallace) credit, too: he caught that pass and lost that fumble, but on the very next play he came right back and made the interception," Burke added. "He turned the page, and that's what a kid needs to do, just come back and make the next play."
While there will most assuredly be more record numbers that will come out of Friday night's game, Burke stresses the Chiefs now need to concentrate on next week's foe, Teays Valley, and aim for a 2-0 start. The Vikings beat Pickaway County rival Westfall 38-0 in their opener last night.
"For lack of a better term, we were happy with how we played a year ago in week one (a 43-42, double-overtime loss to Lancaster). We almost had it," Burke said. "And I think we had a letdown in week two (a 44-40 defeat at Teays Valley). It's really up to our seniors to keep that from happening. They know the vibe of what's going on and they have to make sure everybody's not living off this win because it's in the past.
"At 10:40 (tonight) my 24-hour rule to enjoy this win is up," he added, "and they have to turn the page and start working on Teays Valley."