Jackson week means SEOAL title is likely on the line
By CRAIG DUNN Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
LOGAN — When it comes to “education 101,” there are the three Rs: reading, writing and arithmetic.
When it comes to Logan vs. Jackson and “high school football 101,” however, you can probably go with at least four Rs: rivalry, respect, records and rankings.
In Logan vs. Jackson football, you can usually throw the latter two Rs out the schoolhouse window — but you can never, ever underestimate how much “rivalry” and “respect” mean in this annual football showdown.
Game time is 7 p.m. — and if you are a true fan of the Purple & White or the Red & White, this is one game you don’t want to miss. It could be one of the area’s best football games of the season.
The Ironmen (6-0 overall, 1-0 SEOAL) are coming off a 28-5 victory over Warren in their league opener and, the previous week, a 27-0 whitewashing of Wheelersburg, which at the time was a top-10 Division V team.
Jackson is now a top-10 team: the Ironmen are ranked No. 10 in this week’s state Associated Press Division III football poll.
Meanwhile, the Chieftains (3-3, 1-0) registered a workman-like 32-7 triumph in their conference lidlifter last week at Portsmouth and have won three of their last four games. Their only loss in that span was a 43-13 defeat at Loudonville — which, speaking of rankings, is the state’s No. 3 Division VI team this week.
Logan coach Billy Burke and his Chiefs are well-aware of what’s on the line Friday night.
“There are all sorts of scenarios,” Burke said. “We’re the defending league champs, so we have an ‘X’ on our back. … Jackson’s undefeated, so they’re the ones that have the pressure on them. … but then again, we’re playing at their place, so we have a tough road game. … and then we’ve played a bunch of road games, and we’re road-tested.
“You could look at every single scenario you want,” he continued, “but the bottom line, really, is whether our 16- and 17-year-old kids are more ready to play, make plays and handle the situation or whatever scenario that we want to create. Who can handle that best is probably the team that’s going to win this game.”
Friday marks the Chiefs’ final road game in a stretch of five away tilts in a six-week span, meaning they’ve played in six different places in as many weeks.
Both teams will probably be favored to win their final two league games — Logan hosts Gallia Academy in week nine and travels to Warren to finish the season, while Jackson plays at Portsmouth next week and concludes its season at Gallipolis — so, barring an upset in one of those games, Friday is a de facto championship game.
It certainly wound up being that way last fall when the Chiefs drove for the winning touchdown in the final minute to eke out a 28-21 week-seven success over the Ironmen — a setback the Ironmen are aching to avenge.
And there’s this additional scenario:
Regardless of what happens Friday night, the Ironmen will likely make the state Division III playoffs (they also host Ironton in week nine) if they win their final three games.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, have clawed their way into the Division II Region 5 playoff picture — they are ranked No. 13 this week — but would need to win out (including Jackson and next week’s non-league game against Zanesville) to have a chance at cracking the top eight and reaching the post-season for the first time in five years.
Thus it’s all on the line between the two schools who possess the most SEOAL titles than anyone in the 90-year-old league’s history. Logan owns 26 and Jackson 22, and they have either won outright or shared nine of the last 10 league crowns.
“If I can compare (the Ironmen) to somebody, they’re like Loudonville,” Burke said.
Jackson fans should understand that is indeed high praise. Like the Ironmen, the Redbirds (6-0) are undefeated and, like Jackson, the Ashland Countians have a team built on a stalwart defense. Loudonville also has the best defense the Chiefs have seen in several seasons.
Loudonville has shut out four of its last five foes and has allowed just 27 points all season; Jackson has whitewashed three opponents and allowed just a field goal (and the offense permitted a safety) in giving up five points to Warren last week.
The Ironmen have only given up 32 points — less than six per game — while the Chiefs are scoring at a clip of 37 points per contest.
Yes, something’s gotta give Friday night.
“I thought we were okay against Loudonville in the first quarter. We were playing okay but we had mistakes,” Burke said. “What we have to do is eliminate the mistakes we had against Loudonville and come up with the same kind of game minus the mistakes. I feel pretty good about our chances if we can do that.”
Loudonville turned a blocked a Logan punt into a touchdown less than two minutes into that week-four game and, although the Chiefs trailed just 19-13 late in the first half, the Purple & White never really recovered. The Redbirds turned four Logan miscues into 27 points… and that simply cannot happen against Jackson.
“I really honestly don’t know much about state rankings or computer points when I’m evaluating the ability of an opponent,” Burke said. “I look at how they played against somebody and how good they are on film, and figure out what their strengths and weaknesses are.”
And Burke sees many more strengths than he does weaknesses in the Ironmen.
“They’re a tough opponent and have obviously played very well to be undefeated to this point,” Burke said. “They have good players who play hard and do things well.
“They’re kind of like us in a sense they’re going to give you a little bit here and there that you haven’t seen yet,” he added, “except their style is a little different than ours. They do what they do very well. They have linemen who are tough, a bunch of kids who can run the football, and a good quarterback who can keep the ball and run it from time to time.”
Through their first two games — tough losses to Lancaster (43-42 in double overtime) and Teays Valley (44-40) — the Chiefs had gained over four times more yards passing (592) than rushing (143), and 70 of those rushing yards had come on one play.
Since then, however, the Purple & White have established their running game to the point that they have more total yards rushing (1,163) than they do passing (1,092) on the season. They’ve won three of those four matchups and ran the ball much better against Loudonville than 57 yards would indicate on the surface.
“As we’ve said before, we had to establish a running game in order to be able to continue to compete each week, and we’ve been able to do that,” Burke said. “It sets up your passing game. We don’t have a passing game that needs to be set up — we could probably do some things solely with the pass, and that’s a nice luxury to have — but obviously we do have good balance.
“We’ll do the same thing again… try to establish the run and run our passing game off that,” he added.
Showing that they’re capable of doing both — and with great effect — means the Ironmen (and future Chieftain foes) will have to respect the Purple & White’s ability to both execute and balance their offense.
“We’re not going to sneak up on anybody,” Burke said. “We have athletes that we’re able to get the ball to, and a lot of different guys have made plays for us. Our job is to make sure that we come up with the best-possible game plan to be successful and put our kids into position to make plays.”
Logan has just four turnovers in its three wins and six miscues in its three defeats. Limiting mistakes may sound cliché but, against a quality (not to mention undefeated) foe like Jackson, it’s oh-so-true… and oh-so-crucial.
“That’s exactly what we’re trying to establish,” Burke said. “I know I’m saying ‘establish’ and it’s already week seven, but you want to win games by doing things well and limiting your mistakes. Generally the team that wins a football game has made the fewest amount of mistakes… (not just) turnovers, but breakdowns in your special teams and things like lining up incorrectly on defense, or (if) you don’t block the correct guy on offense. Those are mistakes, too.
“So the team that can be the most workman-like (like the Chiefs were last week at Portsmouth) and limit their mistakes is the team that’s probably going to be the most successful,” he added. “When you are doing what you know and understand, it helps kids develop confidence and then there’s not (as many) mistakes. It’s when you’re thinking too much that you tend to make those mistakes.”
Neither the Chiefs nor the Ironmen have played a close game for a month. Jackson’s closest games all season have been 23-point wins over Waverly and Warren, while the Chiefs have played second-half running-clock games each of the last four weeks.
“We’ve gained some experience from close games (Lancaster and Teays Valley) that we maybe coulda-shoulda won,” Burke said. “We played a tough opponent in Loudonville, but we’ve also had some success. We have to find a way to channel all of that experience to date into putting together a pretty darn good game in a very important situation against somebody that we are very familiar with.”
And, depending upon how you want to spin it, those running-clock games can be viewed as either a help or a hindrance. While the Chiefs have played six games, they’ve played maybe the sum equivalent of a little more than four-and-a-half under regular clock stoppages.
“You can absolutely look at it (as when) you get out of games sooner you play a little less football,” Burke said, “but at the same time, when you’re in a game where you don’t establish that running clock, it’s a little lengthier game (and) you want to have the conditioning (in) games to draw on.
“We haven’t had that (lately), so it is a double-edged sword,” he continued. “We haven’t had enough game conditioning lately, but at the same time that’s kept us from risking a large amount of injuries” in games that are out-of-reach.
It’s highly unlikely that Friday night’s game in Alumni Stadium will reach the running-clock stage. Expect a nail-biter between these two longtime rivals.
“I don’t know how much the kids someday are going to talk about the week we played Meigs their senior year, but I’m certain they’ll want to talk about — and with good, positive memories — the week we played Jackson when Jackson was undefeated,” Burke said. “Hopefully someday, when they’re getting back together and discussing this football season, this game brings up good memories.”