Gales edge Chiefs in double-OT thriller, 43-42
By CRAIG DUNN Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
LOGAN — Motion penalties proved costly to the Lancaster Golden Gales in Friday night’s season opener against the Logan Chieftains.
That is, however, except for the one that the Chiefs felt was not called on the game’s final play.
Trailing 42-35 after the Purple & White scored on their possession in the second overtime, the Gales got a 20-yard touchdown run from quarterback Alex Butsko to draw within one point.
Rather than kick an extra point and force a third extra session, the Gales decided to go for broke and attempt a 2-point conversion … and what may be the final play in the Logan-Lancaster varsity football series will forever be wrapped in controversy.
As the Gales shifted their personnel, it appeared at least one was still moving as Butsko took the snap, went around right end and dove into the end zone for two points.
The Chiefs looked for yellow laundry on the field. There was none to be seen.
And thus the Gales escaped Logan Chieftain Stadium with an unbelievable 43-42 victory in the season opener for both teams.
Logan coach Billy Burke — himself a Lancaster High School graduate — would not concede that Friday night’s Hall of Fame Night thriller was a Chieftain defeat.
“I always tell the kids that we have a 24-hour rule. If we win, we celebrate for 24 hours; we lose, we sulk for 24 hours,” Burke said. “We don’t have to sulk. We can celebrate because we didn’t lose this game.”
Had the penalty been called, the Gales would have been pushed back to the 8-yard line and likely would have elected to boot a game-tying extra point. But it was not called, and the Chiefs — who left everything they had on the turf of their home stadium and truly deserved to win this game — came out on the short end.
The no-call “cost us the game, and it’s unfortunate,” Burke noted. “But we can’t dwell on it. We have to win nine games in a row now. I told the kids, ‘You don’t have to sulk, because you didn’t lose … you just didn’t win.’ ”
Those who thought the larger Gales would cakewalk their way to a victory in the series finale were caught off-guard, to say the least, as junior quarterback Lane Little and his excellent corps of receivers picked apart the Lancaster secondary.
Little (23-of-40 passing for 306 yards) tied a school record with four touchdown passes — three of them to Chance Cox (eight receptions for 147 yards), all in the first half — and even caught one of his own when Dean Jordan connected with him on a perfectly-executed, 9-yard halfback-option pass to open the scoring.
“That’s what you do when you evaluate a game plan: you figure out what your strengths are and how you can exploit somebody else,” Burke said. “We were fortunate to do that for the better part of the game.”
Burke felt the Chiefs’ tall, athletic receivers could (and would) exploit a smaller set of Lancaster defensive backs, and the Purple & White worked their game plan to near-perfection in what wound up being a crazy, emotional football game.
And you can count Lancaster coach Rob Carpenter himself among those who marveled at what the Chiefs did to his defense.
“You’ve got an excellent coach in Bill Burke. He’s a Lancaster guy, and he’s got a lot of heart and he had these guys ready,” Carpenter said. “They had an excellent game plan.
“That passing game looked like it did back in ‘08 and ‘09 (when the Chiefs defeated the Gales in back-to-back seasons) and they gave us trouble,” he added. “When (Little) got out of the pocket he got time to throw… and I don’t care how good of a DB you are, he had good receivers and they were all taller than us. We’ve got guys who can cover, but on the jump balls that was a foot difference.”
The Chiefs had a difficult time adjusting to the difference in size along the lines — where the Gales had the size advantage and Logan had more players going both ways — in the early going. That helped the Gales answer every single score the Chiefs put on the board.
“We played really good assignment football,” Burke praised. “They’re a tough, physical running team. We needed to tackle better, but we had a really good game plan and we executed our game plan almost to the best of our ability. I’m happy with the overall effort, no doubt about that.”
The two teams combined for 35 points in the opening quarter alone — Little caught his 9-yard TD pass from Jordan a little more than two minutes into the game to get things rolling in the highest-scoring Logan-Lancaster game ever — but every time Logan would score, Lancaster would respond.
Jerry King (164 yards on 21 carries), one of three Gales who rushed for at least 100 yards — Ryan Fitchpatrick had 120 and Harrison Taylor 110 — pulled Lancaster even with a 15-yard run, only to see a perfectly-executed 23-yard middle-screen pass from Little to Bryce McBride set up the Chiefs’ second score. Cox made an unbelievable catch while diving toward the back of the end zone to complete a 25-yard scoring play.
The Chiefs missed the PAT kick, and Lancaster came back to take a 14-13 lead on a 16-yard counter run by Taylor.
It’s likely that nobody — nobody — thought the Chiefs could put three offensive touchdowns on the board in one quarter against the Gales, but the Purple & White did just that.
Less than a minute later, Little — playing QB for the first time since breaking his collarbone against the Gales in last season’s opener — scrambled to his left and hit a wide-open Cox with a 62-yard scoring bomb. Little then connected with 6-foot-9 senior tight end Kevin Fisher on a 2-point jump-ball conversion pass to make it 21-14 Chiefs.
A 42-yard run by King began an eight-play, 85-yard scoring drive, capped by a 1-yard Butsko keeper, as the Gales pulled even less than two minutes into the second stanza.
But Logan took a 28-21 intermission lead when, with 2:22 remaining in the second stanza, Little went deep and found Cox wide open — again — behind the Lancaster secondary for a 41-yard TD aerial.
Lancaster tied the game less than two minutes into the second half when Taylor went around left end, cut back to the middle and, with a Logan defensive back slipping to the ground, found running room for a 51-yard scoring jaunt to make it 28-28.
Things then began to get crazy.
After forcing the Chiefs to punt for just the second time, the Gales drove to the Logan 7-yard line and appeared ready to take the lead.
Following a 5-yard penalty — yes, for illegal motion — and a 1-yard run by King, the Gales fumbled the ensuing handoff. Jordan picked it off at the Lancaster 13 and set sail for the Gale goal line 87 yards away.
Taylor never gave up on the play and caught up with Jordan, but made the tackle as Jordan crossed the goal line for the lead score… and Logan’s all-time record for a defensive fumble return.
“Butsko hurt his hand (just prior to) the scoop-and-score,” Carpenter said. “His left hand was completely numb and it was bleeding. I shouldn’t have let him go back in. He didn’t have the feel, and he didn’t have the snap, and the ball dropped on the ground and there (Jordan) went.”
Undaunted, the Gales drove 65 yards on nine plays on the ensuing possession and tied the game at 35-35 on the opening play of the fourth period when King scored his second TD of the night from six yards out.
Ironically, in a game dominated to that point by the offenses — they combined for nearly 900 yards’ worth of offense on the night — it was the defenses that stepped up and kept the rest of regulation play scoreless.
Logan’s Domonic Micochero came through with a huge sack on Butsko after the Gales had driven to midfield then, in the final minutes, the Chiefs put together a nice drive as the result of several short-out passes.
On fourth-and-seven from the Lancaster 24, Little was stopped a yard short of a first down on a scramble and the Gales took over with 19 seconds remaining, kneeling twice to run out the clock.
The Chiefs’ opening series in overtime ended with an incomplete pass on fourth-and-three, and it looked like the Gales would win it when they needed just three plays to reach the Logan 1-yard line.
But the Chiefs were waiting with a terrific goal-line stand.
Butsko was stopped for no gain, then Drew Smith was stopped for a 1-yard loss on a counter play to set up fourth-and-goal from the Logan 2.
Lancaster could have went for a game-winning 19-yard field goal, but with the ball squarely on the left hashmark, the Gales decided against it although kicker Will Young was a perfect 5-for-5 on PAT kicks.
“With the angle, there was no thought about it,” Carpenter said.
Butsko then fumbled the snap, killing the first overtime — and, somehow, the Chiefs lived to see a second.
And, once there, they came oh-so-close to winning it.
After three-straight incomplete passes, junior receiver Isaiah Smith (a team-high nine receptions for 70 yards) ran a perfect right-to-left slant and, on fourth down, Little hit him in stride for a 20-yard TD pass. Smith then booted his fourth PAT kick of the night and Logan led 42-35.
The lead did not last long. On the first play of Lancaster’s second-OT series, Butsko went around right end and scored on a 20-yard keeper to pull the Gales within one point.
After Carpenter decided to go for two — and after the Chiefs called a time-out to set their defense — Butsko ran nearly the same play and dove into the end zone for the disputed game-winning conversion.
What a way to end a rivalry series.
“He’s our leader and he said he could go” after being hurt earlier in the game, Carpenter said of Butsko. “In that situation, who do you think we’re going to give the ball to? He’s proved he can get outside and be a runner for us and he did the job.
“My hat’s off to (the Chiefs),” he added. “I think they’re going to have a heck of a season. Those kids responded to what (Burke) asked them to do. They have a great passing game, being able to roll (Little) out and hit the deep ball. They got it done… they just came up one point short.”
Burke isn’t going to let that one point haunt his team as the Chiefs prepare to play their next three games on the road, starting with a trip to Teays Valley — a 49-0 winner over Westfall — next Friday night.
“We played our tails off tonight,” Burke said. “We’re not going to sulk. We’re going to celebrate. We corrected a lot of (the mistakes from last week’s final scrimmage at Sheridan), and we’re going to take what happened tonight and (use that as) big-time fuel on the fire for the next nine games.”
And don’t be surprised if the Purple & White burn a lot of teams in the process. A lot of teams.