One last road game awaits Logan gridders
By CRAIG DUNN Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
LOGAN — As the 2014 season comes to a close, the road-weary Logan Chieftains take another trip down a road they’ve traveled before, both literally and figuratively.
The Purple & White hope to finish with a break-even record, and secure no worse than a second-place Southeastern Ohio Athletic League finish, when they travel to Washington County Friday night to take on the Warren Warriors in their season finale.
Kickoff at Warren High School is slated for 7 p.m.
For that to happen, however, Logan would have to beat last-place Warren (1-8, 0-3) while Gallipolis (4-5, 2-1) would have to upset state-ranked and playoff-bound Jackson (9-0, 3-0) Friday night in the old French City.
Winning is never easy, however, and Logan’s task is made even more difficult Friday night.
The Chiefs will be without two of their most vital assets — who account for more than 74 percent of their yardage on offense and nearly 63 percent of their touchdowns — when they hit the road for one last time Friday night.
Quarterback Lane Little (1,438 passing yards, 14 touchdown passes and one TD pass reception) must sit out the game due to an OHSAA-mandated suspension. Running back Bryce McBride (782 rushing yards, 10 TDs), is out with a leg injury that may linger well into his upcoming wrestling season.
Both are a direct result of last week’s 28-7 victory over Gallipolis in the Chiefs’ home finale.
Little was suspended after being ejected for allegedly kicking a Gallia Academy defender while McBride sustained his injury while trying to make a first-quarter tackle.
And even if the Chiefs were bound for the playoffs next week — which they’re not — both juniors would have missed that game as well.
So the Chiefs will thus turn to another skill-position player — senior wide receiver Chance Cox — to fill in at quarterback. Fellow senior Dean Jordan, the team’s second-leading rusher, will get the bulk of the carries.
It’s well-documented that Logan has been down this road before.
When Little was injured in the opening game of the 2013 season, then-senior running back Nick Kost stepped in and did a championship-caliber job managing the offense as a run-first quarterback.
“It’s not dis-similar to what it was a year ago,” said Logan coach Billy Burke. “Chance may be a little better thrower (and) maybe a little bit better of an athlete, and he’s got some ‘it’ factor. Nick Kost had an ‘it’ factor and Chance has his share.
“Now it’s what do we do at corner (Cox is a starting cornerback) on defense so we aren’t playing our quarterback the entire time if we can avoid it,” he continued. “Our work is cut out for us personnel-wise — but at the same time, we’re happy with some of the guys who stepped up and played and contributed last Friday night. It will be another situation where guys will get a chance to play.”
The Chiefs also lose another offensive weapon in addition to Little and McBride because they lose Cox in his capacity as a play-making wide receiver.
Moving Cox to quarterback takes his team-leading 41 pass receptions (all of them from Little) out of the equation unless the Purple & White insert someone else at QB or run some sort of trick play.
(Foes know the Chiefs can — and will — do just that. Logan’s first touchdown of the season was a 9-yard halfback option pass from Jordan to a wide-open Little in the opener against Lancaster).
“I told the coaches the other day that ‘let’s just pull up last year’s Warren game (a 49-22 Chieftain victory) and let’s just run play-for-play, at least offensively, what we did a year ago’ because it will be similar so far as personnel goes,” Burke said with a wry smile. “We’ll modify things, and we have a week to practice and get a little bit better at doing it.
“I thought Chance did a great job stepping in (against Gallipolis), and Casey Phillips is a similar-type quarterback that we’ve had ready to go all season,” he continued. “We have (Phillips) ready as a backup quarterback and Caleb Lewellen could contribute also, so we’re pretty good as far as the quarterback position.
“What’s really going to hurt us is losing Bryce,” he added. “Bryce and Dean were a nice one-two punch. We’ve had to go (with) a lot of one (running) back all season because our two backs were also our two linebackers… so when you have both of them in the game on offense and on defense, you’re not finding any time to get those guys a break.”
The result, as Burke noted, is that several players will thus get additional chances to contribute Friday night.
“Dean will be (at running back) full-time and we’ll get some substitutions by Colton Stilwell to help out (at linebacker) on defense,” Burke said. “Guys like (junior running back) Corey Wilson will have to step up if their number’s called. Brandon Arnett may have to play a little more at running back than he did last week. We have a plan in place so far as our personnel goes, and we’ll tweak our formations a little bit.”
Hopefully, Friday’s Halloween-night road trip won’t bring about nightmares.
Logan’s last football trip to Warren was the 2012 finale, a game in which the Purple & White fell apart at the seams in a 49-8 loss… the Warriors’ largest-ever margin of victory over the Chiefs.
This will also be the Chiefs’ sixth road game — encompassing, all told, nearly 800 round-trip miles — and will thus bring to an end what has been a long season in that respect.
However, in another sense, some of the changes and tweaks having to be made this week may prove to be somewhat beneficial.
“Sometimes I think when guys get put into a different position it re-energizes them,” Burke said. “Football is a long, grueling, grinding season and sometimes the kids have fun just doing something different.”
He used Monday as an example. Logan’s junior varsity game at Gallipolis was canceled because the Blue Devils — who only have 34 players on their overall roster in grades 9-12 — didn’t have enough players available.
Logan couldn’t get another reserve game scheduled in its place, so the coaching staff made the best of a tough situation.
“We divided up our freshman and JV guys and (played) offense vs. defense, put the seniors in charge of defense and the juniors in charge of the offense, and had an inter-squad scrimmage,” Burke said. “The varsity guys had a blast. They couldn’t wait to put the headsets on and be coaches (and) get up in the press box.”
The coaches and Burke officiated.
“It was as productive as a JV game probably would have been,” Burke revealed, “and everybody had a great time. We even filmed it, so guys got the opportunity to prove themselves (for next season). We got after it on the field, and the kids had fun with the coaching aspect of things.”
While it’s obviously not something the coaches want to do every week, it fit the bill in a pinch at the conclusion of a long season.
In such a situation, “you think you’re not really making sure we’re prepared for what the other team might present and you feel you didn’t cover the things you need to cover,” Burke said. “But you’re dealing with kids and you want things to be fun and (it goes back) to that grinding season again.
“It’s a fine line,” he acknowledged, “and I wrestle with that all the time because I’m very focused on game plans and execution of X’s and O’s. Sometimes you forget (they are) 16-year-old kids who want to have fun. I think the kids are refreshed and ready to play.”
The Chiefs certainly haven’t forgotten their opponents for Friday night… and by no means are they taking the one-win Warriors lightly.
“They give you a multiple look to prepare for,” Burke said. “Defensively they’re big up front and, with us focusing more on a running game, it’s going to be critical that we execute on offense and open up running lanes. They were big last year, too, and we know we have to execute.”
It does help that the Chiefs get junior lineman Josh Rardain back from a two-game suspension and that, health-wise, they are nearly 100 percent along the lines. Senior Keith Martin and junior Tommy Hayden are making steady progress from earlier injuries.
“Sometimes you can manage and replace the skill kids — but that continuity on the offense line, especially, you don’t want to mess with that,” Burke stated. “Tommy’s been playing wounded and he and Keith (are continuing) the healing process.
“Getting those guys back and having a full offensive line with the addition of Eddie Lanning (a transfer student who became eligible to play in week six), we’re now as full (on the line) as we’re going to be,” he surmised. “I feel good about that going into Friday night.”
While Friday marks the final game for 14 seniors, it also marks somewhat of a beginning for underclassmen stepping up and getting ready to assume team-leadership roles heading into next season.
“That kind of started Monday night with our own guys battling against our own guys and getting a real sense of who can do what,” Burke pointed out. “You want to send the seniors out (with a victory) and, at the same time, play one last game and do well so we can evaluate ourselves going forward into the off-season.
“We still see kids getting better every single week, and that’s what you hope for,” he added. “Kids (are) still working and kids (are) still getting better and understanding. I’m satisfied with that. We’d love to have the opportunity to keep playing, but some things didn’t go the way we needed them to go earlier in the season.”