LOGAN — Mainly because they haven’t had all of their primary personnel on the field for a single snap this fall, the Logan Chieftains are still trying to figure out their identity as a football team.
Hopefully, they have some reinforcements on the way.
The Purple & White hope to get senior wide receiver/defensive back Nick Maniskas and sophomore running back/DB Cole Baron back in time to play Friday (7:30 p.m. kickoff) when they host the Newark Wildcats in Logan Chieftain Stadium.
“I think we’ll get Nick (a team captain) back at some point this week,” Logan coach Billy Burke said earlier this week. “He’s been practicing (but) I don’t know how that will translate for Friday night.
“We’re still trying to figure out exactly who we are and put guys into positions,” he added. “Last week, defensively we had some guys playing for the first time in different positions and that hurt us a little bit… but as soon as we can figure out some continuity on offense and defense I think we’ll be all right.”
Having already lost their starting quarterback, sophomore Lane Little, to a collarbone injury, the Chiefs are a team in early-season transition that now has a wildcat-formation quarterback, senior Nick Kost, as the full-time signal-caller.
Burke has little doubt that Newark will try to force the Chiefs to pass the ball by stacking more defenders onto the line. And after relinquishing 489 ground yards in a 42-35 loss to Westerville North last week, the Wildcats will especially be eager for redemption.
“That’s my anticipation,” Burke said. “Teays Valley has a little bit of a blueprint out there on what to do against us from their defensive perspective, so I have to counter and have an answer.”
The Chiefs want to get Kost ample time and room to throw when/as needed.
“It’s built into the structure of the offense,” Burke noted. “This week we’re going to try to move Nick around a little bit more. Throwing from the pocket is not his strength, so we’ve done a couple other things to get Nick on the move so that he feels a little more comfortable throwing the football.”
Throwing the football is one thing Newark certainly does very well.
Most of the players on this year’s Logan team felt the sting of last season’s 35-32 loss at Newark… a game in which the host Wildcats snapped a 20-game losing streak and won on their home field for the first time in five years.
The Chiefs trailed 21-0 less than seven minutes into the game; rallied to take the lead, and the lead changed hands four times before the Wildcats pulled out the victory behind now-senior quarterback Grant Russell, who was 14-of-25 passing for 241 yards. He’s already thrown four touchdown passes and, last week, became the school’s all-time passing yardage leader.
Other than Gallia Academy’s Wade Jarrell — and, with all due respect to Dylan Leffingwell of Warren, the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League’s Player of the Year — Russell was probably the best QB the Purple & White faced last season.
With Russell their primary weapon, the Wildcats will be more pass-oriented than Logan’s first two foes — Lancaster and Teays Valley — although they’re also capable of moving the ball on the ground.
“We’ve gone against two teams who have wanted to run the football, and they obviously had success doing that,” Burke said. “Maybe defending the run hasn’t been our strength because we haven’t seen anybody throw the ball. We do think we are athletic in the secondary, and we need to create some opportunities to get some pressure on their quarterback as well.
Even “as athletic as we think we are,” Burke continued, “if we give (Russell) plenty of time to throw the football he’s going to complete the pass. We have to get a little more pressure on him than we (applied to) Teays Valley’s quarterback last week. It’s another dynamic that we haven’t seen yet.”
The domino effect of Little’s injury resulted in moving Kost to full-time quarterback and out of the defensive rotation, forcing the Logan defense to re-shuffle. Not having Maniskas and Baron, a pair of key two-way players, hasn’t helped.
“That’s one of the tough parts, trying to say ‘this is who we think we are,’ but at certain points in the season the dynamic changes because of different guys involved,” Burke stated. “Obviously, a prime example is (now) having a different type of quarterback, so we’re executing a different version of our offense.
“I’ve said this every week,” he added, “but I mean it: I do feel confident about our game plan and the things we’re trying to accomplish.”
Burke has been pleased with the Chiefs showing resiliency, sticking to game plans and doing a lot of fundamental things correctly.
“That’s exactly why we need to be optimistic, because we are executing and doing those things,” Burke said. “Maybe we’ve found out what positions (where players) need to be in to order to do that.”
And it goes without saying the Chiefs need to possess the ball more. Against Teays Valley, the Logan offense had it for only 40 plays and less than 17 minutes.
“If we can pick the perfect scenario, it’s to get some three-and-outs on defense, get some long sustained drives where we’re running the ball, and being physical on offense,” Burke said, “and have the opportunity to have some offensive snaps to execute our game plan.
“I think the biggest thing we can take away from last week, even though it was a loss, was that we stayed after it, we competed and we were still able to do some things in the second half even though things didn’t go our way in the first half,” he continued. “I thought we made a good defensive adjustment at halftime. I thought we were able to stick with a couple drives offensively and we were able to move the ball. We made halftime adjustments offensively as well and we were able to run the ball on the perimeter a little bit and move the ball.”
However, there is one important aspect the Logan coaches want to see their players exhibit.
“I told them that one thing I think we’re missing right now is a little bit of toughness,” Burke revealed. “When you get out between those lines, you have to be a guy who’s willing to get into a legal fight… and that’s essentially what football is, a legal fight. It really comes down to me-against-you, one-on-one, in a legal fight.
“If we can correct a couple things on defense — and a lot of it has to do with the pursuit of our defense line — and the kids execute,” he added, “we’re that close to making that tackle (and giving up just one or two yards) as opposed to (opponents) cutting upfield and getting eight.”