Home sweet home: Three welcome words for Chiefs
By CRAIG DUNN Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
LOGAN — Even this late in the season, it’s difficult to get a read on just how good the Logan Chieftains and Zanesville Blue Devils actually are.
But one thing is easy to figure: when the two teams meet Friday night (7 p.m. kickoff) in Logan Chieftain Stadium, both will desperately be seeking a victory.
“It gets to be a long season. The weeks get long,” admits Logan coach Billy Burke, “and when you don’t get a win on a Friday, it’s like going to work and not collecting a paycheck. Our goal this week is to collect that paycheck in front of the home crowd.”
The nine teams who have beaten the Chiefs (7-0 Jackson, 7-0 Loudonville, 5-2 Teays Valley and 4-3 Lancaster) and Blue Devils (7-0 Athens, 7-0 Tri-Valley, 6-1 Sheridan, 5-2 Dover and 5-2 New Philadelphia) boast a combined record of 53-10 — a whopping .841 winning percentage — and all nine teams are in playoff contention.
And, oddly enough, all five teams who have beaten the Blue Devils are Division III schools who are knocking heads in the same playoff region.
“Our four losses are to teams who have only lost five games, so this is (a meeting of) two pretty good teams,” Burke said. “The records are what they are, but maybe they’re not indicative (of how good the teams are). Two teams without a lot of wins, but one will take advantage of the opportunity Friday night — and, hopefully, that’s us.”
Although Friday night’s non-league game is a matchup of Division II Region 5 foes, neither team is likely headed to the post-season playoffs.
Zanesville came oh-so-close to reaching the state championship game last fall but let a late lead get away in an overtime loss to Loveland in the state semifinals.
“When you have that kind of success, you generally graduate a lot of guys,” Burke said of the Blue Devils. “They’re a bit younger (this season) and have guys who don’t have as much playing experience — but they also have guys who have been there in big-time situations.
“We’re going to see a team that’s pretty athletic and will try to spread the ball and try to make us defend 53 (width) yards of the field,” he added. “Defensively they’re going to match up well with our passing game. One of the big keys for us is whether we can physically dominate them up front. We’re probably bigger on the offensive and defensive lines, and that’s something we have to take advantage of.”
Zanesville scored a school-record 661 points in 14 games last season, including a 58-13 rout of the Chiefs in week eight. The Blue Devils then shut out their next four opponents.
This year, the Blue Devils have scored more than half of their 139 points in their lone victories over Newark and Cambridge — recent and future Chieftain foes, respectively — and are unsettled behind center after graduating quarterback Thomas Wibbeler, who threw for 424 yards and six touchdowns in last season’s romp in Muskingum County.
“They’re trying to find their way at the quarterback position,” Burke said, “and anytime you’re not solidified at quarterback that’s always tough. We’re going to have to try to take advantage of that as well. (Zanesville) has a different style of play than Jackson, and we have to prep for that.”
Burke was not pleased with the way his team was physically manhandled in last week’s 42-7 Southeastern Ohio Athletic League loss at Jackson — a defeat that likely ended the Chiefs’ hopes of defending their conference title and of making their first playoff appearance in five years.
The Chiefs would have jumped to seventh in DII Region 5 had they knocked off the Ironmen.
“Sometimes you get into a rut of watching films the next day and you want to make corrections,” Burke said. “What we tried to do (the day after the Jackson game) was find the things the kids did well. It felt bad Friday night, but after you look at the film it’s a little better than you thought… but we still had some glaring mistakes, especially on the defensive side of the ball. They got us with a couple plays, and it was the same style of play each time.
“That’s something we have to fix,” he continued, “but when you’re trying to establish some momentum and string some wins together like we are, you can’t always be the hammer that’s coming down on the kids all the time. Sometimes you have to show them what you are looking for, and that’s what we tried to do on Saturday morning.”
However, last Friday night was a case of the Chiefs simply getting whipped.
“We want to do everything possible so that (if) we get beat by a team that’s physically better than us, we don’t make mistakes that put us in bad positions,” Burke said. “We probably got beat by a better team physically. We did make too many mistakes (and) that sure didn’t give us an opportunity to compete against them. We have to continue to work on that.
“Sometimes you get your butt kicked,” he added, “and that’s what happened to us Friday night.”
But, at least, the Chiefs finally get to play a couple home games — they host another team of Blue Devils (Gallipolis) next Friday night — as the season begins to wind down.
The Jackson game ended a stretch in which the Purple & White played six different games in six different counties: Pickaway, Meigs, Ashland, Hocking, Scioto and Jackson.
Ah yes, home sweet home.
“When I thought about the schedule (last week), I thought ‘this is week seven and we’ve only played two games at home.’ That’s crazy,” Burke said. “And you can add in (the pre-season Sheridan OHSAA Jamboree) scrimmage. So it will be nice to get back home and play in front of the home crowd.
“We have great support here, and it’s comforting for the kids (to) finally getting back home,” he added. “We only have one more at home, so we have to take advantage of these opportunities.”
And what the Chiefs would dearly love to do is win their final three games — they travel to Warren in their regular-season finale — and finish with a winning (6-4) record for a second-straight season.
“It would be nice to string a couple wins together, to try and get our heads above water and stay above water,” Burke said. “We pick up a little momentum and then we lose a little momentum. We want to gain some momentum and finish strong to send our seniors out here in a few weeks on a positive note.
“We’re still trying to figure out who we are,” he added. “As coaches we owe it to our kids to teach them the game — and at the same time, the kids owe it to each other to play hard and play for each other. The bottom line is that we have to go out and play.”
Burke used a big upset in the NFL last weekend as an example.
“Nobody gave the Dallas Cowboys a shot (at winning at defending Super Bowl champion Seattle). It’s how you adapt to situations,” Burke said. “We have to keep accentuating the positive and get guys into positions where they can make plays.
“Hopefully we’re doing a lot of congratulating each other for making good plays Friday night. I want to see us jumping around and high-fiving Friday night,” he added.
Yet the Chiefs also look to win a football game while keeping its place in life in proper perspective.
“We lost one of our classmates (Raymond Mount) last week (in an automobile accident) and our kids are still dealing with that,” Burke said. “You always have to remember, in the grand scheme of things, that this is a game.
“It’s important,” he added, “but at the same time, some of these young men lost a friend and they’ve been going through (the grieving process). Sports is a great way to help people heal. You go out there and spend time together, compete for each other and develop relationships with people… because, as precious and fragile as life is, you never know.”