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By Spencer Waugh
The first Friday night after the Chieftain grid season is always the hardest. Suddenly Friday night, which was anticipated all week long, becomes another night to find plans or even worse do chores that were neglected for the last ten weeks. While the Logan Chieftains missed out on a playoff berth thanks to back to back losses against Jackson and St. Francis DeSales, football fans looking for a rooting interest in the OHSAA playoffs have a couple of options with local flavor.
A pair of former Chieftains turned head coaches, John Smith (1990) and Alex Penrod (2002) take their teams into entertaining playoff matches. Here’s a brief preview of those match-ups:
Who: Bexley Lions (8-2) at Jackson Ironmen (9-1)
What: Division III, Region 9 quarterfinal
Where: Alumni Stadium, Jackson High School, Jackson, OH
When: Friday, Nov. 6; 7:30 PM
Who: Alexander Spartans (9-1) vs Rock Hill Redmen (6-3)
What: Division V, Region 17 quarterfinal
Where: Alexander High School, Albany, OH
When: Friday, Nov. 6; 7:30 PM
Smith, a 1990 LHS graduate, was a three-time SEOAL champion as a player for Clarence Perry and was the starting center on Mt. Union’s first National Championship football team in 1993.
His Lions are making their third consecutive postseason appearance and fourth since Coach Smith arrived at BHS in 2007. Prior to his arrival, the Lions had never qualified for the OHSAA playoffs. Bexley is still looking for its first playoff win.
The Lions are 8-2 (5-1) and co-champions of the Mid-State League Ohio Division. A stingy defense, allowing 13 points per game, recorded three shut-outs and hasn’t allowed more than three touchdowns since September. BHS defeated playoff qualifier Harvest Prep (31-14) and defeated rival Columbus Academy (31-20) while dropping a non-league game to Bloom-Carroll (17-27) and their season finale with Grandview Heights (10-21).
On offense, a strong running game that combines speed and power has averaged 32 points per game. The Lions were held below 20 points only three times all season. Rico Truss (5-11, 165, senior) leads the running attack with 1,174 yards and 12 touchdowns on 162 carries.
The Jackson Ironmen need no introduction to Chieftain Football fans. The Ironmen won their second consecutive SEOAL championship and 24th overall, trailing only Logan’s 26 championship in the long history of the league. The Ironmen finished 9-1, their lone blemish a 28-7 setback to undefeated Wheelersburg. Jackson defeated playoff qualifiers Chillicothe (19-16, OT) and an 8-2 Logan team.
The Ironmen are making their 11th trip to the postseason where they are 5-10 all-time. The Jackson Countians defeated Logan Elm, 28-17 at Alumni Stadium last season but fell to St. Francis DeSales 24-14 in a regional semi-final played in Chillicothe. The Ironmen have never advanced to a third playoff game in the school’s history.
Jackson entered the elite 600-win club with their 64-20 drubbing of rival Gallipolis last week. The Ironmen defense has smothered opponents, allowing only 13.5 points per game. Only Wheelersburg scored more than the 21 points the Chieftains mustered in their defeat in week six.
Quarterback Hunter Sexton (5-11, 215, senior) pilots a brutal Jackson running game that averages nearly seven yards per carry and over 280 yards rushing per game.
The Ironmen and Lions have one common opponent. Jackson defeated West Jefferson 38-17 in week three while the Lions beat the Roughriders 42-35 in week five. Smith was 3-0 against the Ironmen during his playing days.
The Spartans will host a playoff game for the first time in Albany in their third ever playoff appearance. The Spartans previously qualified for the playoffs in 2009 and 2010. The Rock Hill Redmen (6-3), are making their fifth postseason appearance and first since 2007. The Redmen have not won a playoff game since 1995. Three of Rock Hill’s four playoff losses have been to Lawrence County rival Ironton.
The Spartans lone setback was a 9-3 loss to playoff qualifier Chesapeake (8-2) in week two. Alexander defeated playoff qualifiers Harvest Prep (41-22), River Valley (22-12), and Trimble (42-13).
Penrod, a 2002 LHS graduate, quarterbacked Logan to one of the most unlikely perfect regular seasons in school history. As a junior, he backed up all-time great Joey Conrad as Logan advanced to their only regional final and finished a school best 12-1. With only a handful of returning starters, Logan completed a second straight 10-0 regular season and hosted the school’s first playoff game in 2001. Penrod can still claim to out-playing Notre Dame and NFL quarterback Brady Quinn on the hilltop’s Bill Sauer Field.
Bobby Russell (LHS, 2010) is an assistant with Penrod and the Spartans. Russell was the center and a defensive lineman for a pair of 11-1 Chieftain teams in 2008 and 2009.
Penrod is in his second season as the head coach at Alexander. The Spartans finished 5-5 last fall in his debut season.
Alexander’s aggressive defense is allowing 13 points per game and have allowed 14 points or fewer in seven games. On offense, the Spartans ground game from diverse formations has averaged 30 points per game. Only Chesapeake held the Spartans to fewer than 21 points. The Alexander offense was held below 30 points only three times all season.
Mason Chapman (6-0, 190, senior) leads the offense with 1,542 yards of total offense, 1,188 on the ground including 21 touchdowns while recording 84 tackles and a pair of interceptions from his linebacker spot.
Rock Hill suffered setbacks against River Valley (0-26), Coal Grove (21-33), and Ironton (13-28) during the regular season but an overtime win over playoff qualifier Chesapeake (27-20) propelled the Redmen into the postseason.
Rock Hill averaged nearly 23 points per game out of their wing-t offense while allowing 16.5 points per game on defense. Rock Hill finished in a tie for second place in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Rock Hill and Alexander share a pair of common opponents. While Rock Hill opened the season with a 26-0 loss to River Valley, the Spartans beat River Valley 22-12 in week seven. But while Alexander fell to Chesapeake 9-3 in week two, Rock Hill conquered the Panthers 27-20 in week four.