Chiefs open defense of SEOAL title Friday night
By CRAIG DUNN Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
LOGAN — With only five schools remaining in the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League, the significance of each and every game is magnified.
There are so few chances to atone for conference defeats that getting caught overlooking any SEOAL foe can spell disaster.
That’s the position the Logan Chieftains are in as they open defense of their 2013 SEOAL title Friday night at Portsmouth.
Game time at Portsmouth High School’s Trojan Coliseum is 7 p.m.
Portsmouth — the last of the 2006 expansion schools — leaves the SEOAL at the end of the current school year for the Ohio Valley Conference.
In fact, PHS is already playing a full OVC schedule in all sports except football — in which schedules are made two or three seasons in advance — in addition to its SEOAL commitments this year.
Friday also marks the second two-hour bus trip in three weeks for the Chiefs, who are still a week away from completing a five-road-games-in-six-weeks stretch.
They didn’t fare well on their last long road trek, losing 43-13 two weeks ago at Loudonville, now the state’s No. 3-ranked Division VI team.
The Trojans are also familiar with playing on the road — they opened their season with four-straight away games — but only left Scioto County once. The combined round-trip mileage of their four road games barely equaled the 90-plus miles the Chiefs put in just getting to Loudonville, let alone the return trip.
What it all comes down to, however, is the Chiefs being focused on what they have to do this week in Scioto County. Jackson week will get here soon enough.
But, considering the Chiefs have been well-focused most of the season, the talk — and the thought process — isn’t about Jackson this week.
“I honestly don’t know much about Jackson because we’re getting ready for Portsmouth,” said Logan coach Billy Burke. “I know what Portsmouth does, and I know where we are as a team. We’re working on us as we always do, and then we have to prepare for the things that Portsmouth does that are different than we’ve seen.
“We’re staying focused on us,” he added. “We’re getting better (at what we do) because we’re focusing on us, and we’ll continue to do that this week.”
Portsmouth can put points on the scoreboard. The Trojans have several solid athletes and, according to Burke, will give the Chiefs some looks they’ve yet to see this season.
“We’ve seen a little bit of this and a little bit of that from the defensive standpoint this season,” Burke noted. “We’re going to see an offense that’s a little bit different than any offense we’ve seen. They get in the shotgun and run some speed-option and triple-option. That’s something we haven’t seen a ton of.
“They have a talented running back and a quarterback who has stepped in and played pretty well,” he added. “They want to spread you out and get the ball out into space. We’re going to have to play assignment football on defense.”
Running back Darion Robinson ran for 105 yards and a touchdown in Portsmouth’s 49-21 loss to Ironton last week. Freshman quarterback Cole Lowery, playing in place of the injured Sky Oliver — a grandson of former professional baseball star Al Oliver — only threw five passes but had a couple late touchdown runs.
Ironton converted four Trojan turnovers into 22 points. Two of those miscues resulted in Ironton touchdowns at the game’s outset.
Logan’s defense has been exceptional in its two victories. In dominating Nelsonville-York 40-7 last week, the Chiefs scored a couple defensive touchdowns while rolling up a 40-0 halftime advantage.
“We’re so focused on ourselves (that) I didn’t have an opinion one way or the other how the game would play out,” Burke said. “What I thought was ‘here’s what we need to do (and) we need to do a better job of this, this and this. I like what we’re doing here, let’s continue to go with it.’
“So I honestly had no thoughts of if we might be up big or what the complexion of the game might be,” he continued. “I always feel we can win every single game that we play — don’t get me wrong there — but just the foreshadowing of the game I didn’t have an opinion.”
One thing he does have an opinion about, however, is the need for the Chieftain defense to continue to dictate what opposing offenses can and can’t do.
“On defense, one thing we have to continue to work on is putting the (other team’s) offense on our schedule,” Burke said. “What I mean by that is that we want first-and-10 to turn into second-and-7 or second-and-8. We don’t want second-and-3. We have to continue to do a good job of that.
“Most teams want to run on first down,” he continued, “so we have to do a great job stuffing the ball at the line of scrimmage and our defensive line has to continue contributing in that fashion. They have to get off blocks and they have to grab onto a runner and then the cleanup comes from the linebackers.”
While scoring points off turnovers aren’t planned, they’re obviously a welcome bonus, like they were last week.
“When I talk about being on schedule… when you can score off a turnover, that really gets an offense off-schedule,” Burke pointed out. “That’s like free points for your team that you don’t factor into the game plan. That’s all icing on the cake. It puts you in the driver’s seat when you’re able to come up with turnovers and convert them into scores.”
Seniors Chance Cox and Casey Phillips did just that against N-Y with 70-yard and 46-yard interception returns, respectively, for touchdowns.
Meanwhile, the Logan offense continued to blossom and diversify, with the running game again stepping up its production last week against the Buckeyes. It’s something the Chiefs want to continue to do in an effort to have all of their weapons at the ready at any given moment.
“At Loudonville I had a couple kids come up to me and ask why we had gotten away from the running game,” Burke revealed. “A little of it was that we had gotten off-schedule — (Loudonville) came up with some big plays on special teams, so I felt that we had to press a little bit offensively and try to pick up a quick score — but it registered with me that the kids are buying into what we’re trying to do offensively (in) running the football.
“So if the kids are buying into it,” he added, “then I’m buying into that they’re buying into it. That’s probably part of the reason that our running game has picked up. Because of changing the scheme a little bit, the kids have bought into it.”
And buying into the schemes means the players also have a better understanding of it.
“If kids ask me if we can do this or that, then I’m going to say that we probably can, and that tells me that they’re comfortable and confident in what they’re doing,” Burke noted. “Defensively we’ve simplified the scheme for them and all they have to do is work on defeating their guy. Sometimes they have to get after it with a good pass rush, but we’re not making it over-complicated. We hope they can play fast because it’s been simplified a little bit.”
As mentioned, the Chiefs are used to travel and won’t let the long trip to Portsmouth make a big difference. They haven’t yet when it comes to the Trojans.
Since Portsmouth rejoined the SEOAL, the Chiefs are 3-0 in Scioto County, winning twice in the Trojans’ new facility as well as once in old Spartan Stadium, the historic home of the NFL’s Portsmouth Spartans (now Detroit Lions) in the 1930s.
“If you get wrapped up in (the long trip) and get worried about (the players’ ability to handle it), it drives you crazy,” Burke said, admitting that “as a coach, you want to know what’s going to happen every single moment — but that drives you crazy, too.
“So we’ll get out and stretch our legs at some point like we did on our way to Loudonville,” he added. “We’ve had three road games and one of them was exceptionally long, so I think we know what we’re in for heading down to Portsmouth.”
For Burke and several of his players, this will be the first trip to Portsmouth High School — and its outstanding athletic facility — for a football game.
“I’m kind of excited and I know some of the kids are excited to go to a place where you’ve never been before,” Burke said. “Some of them haven’t been to Portsmouth to play, and looking at (Trojan Coliseum) on film it looks like a beautiful stadium.
“It’s nice to experience an atmosphere,” he added. “Obviously we want to win the game, but (it’s also interesting) to go and see what Portsmouth football’s all about and how they do things.”
As has been the case all season, however, the Chiefs are primarily concerned about executing and doing what they know they are able to do. Friday at Portsmouth will be no exception… nor will next week at Jackson, the following week against Zanesville, and so forth.
“We had a stretch there against Loudonville where I think we went in the tank mentally a little bit, and that really showed,” Burke admitted. “But we’ve played some great games all season long, and it’s a matter of staying the course and (knowing) that when your number is called, you have to execute your job at all costs.
“I feel like the kids have been dialed in lately and that we’ve been learning from some of our mistakes,” he continued. “Maybe we let some games get away from us and maybe we learned our lesson (as to) why those games got away from us, and that when we have success (it’s) because we do these things well. I feel good about how our kids are working and preparing, and hopefully that translates well on Friday night.”