LOGAN — When measured against traditional Logan High School football standards, the Chieftains’ accomplishments thus far this season can be considered modest.
But when you consider the Chiefs have averaged just two wins per season over the last three years, they’ve already eclipsed some expectations, and they’ve equaled or bettered some of their numbers from that time span… and there are still four games remaining this fall.
And if they can add a victory over Jackson Friday night (7:30 p.m. kickoff) in Logan Chieftain Stadium to what they’ve done thus far, the Purple & White can lay another vital brick toward solidifying a new foundation of success.
While the Chiefs (3-3 overall, 1-0 SEOAL) have won their first league game each of the past three seasons, they’ve not been atop the conference two games into their schedule since 2009, when they last won the championship.
Jackson (also 3-3, 1-0) is the one SEOAL squad Logan has not defeated since 2009, and a victory over the Ironmen would give the Chiefs their first three-game winning streak since — yes, you guessed it — 2009. In fact, the Chiefs’ current two-game win streak, and their stretch of three wins in four outings, are also firsts since then as well.
One more win also gives the Chiefs their most victories in a season since… well, you know.
Don’t let Jackson’s 3-3 record fool you, however; the three teams the Ironmen have lost to have a combined record of 17-1 this season. Athens and Wheelersburg are both 6-0 and West Jefferson is 5-1; Wheelersburg is ranked No. 1 in the state (in Division V) this week and Athens is No. 4 (Division III) by The Associated Press.
But while the Chiefs have begun reconstruction of their winning ways, it’s no secret the Purple & White need a victory over Jackson to strengthen that foundation. Needless to say, they have a lot to play for.
“We’ve played well and (put together a) winning streak, and now we’re fighting for the league lead against a rival,” said Logan coach Billy Burke. “That’s another piece of the puzzle in terms of the complexion of a football season. We’re really going to see what we’re made of this Friday night.
“It’s always nice to be playing for something each and every week,” he continued. “Sometimes you have to manufacture the idea of what you’re playing for, but we’re in a position where each and every week we’re playing for the league title. And as long as we come out on the winning end, then the next game is still for the league title, and that’s a nice way to have motivation and not have to create it yourself each and every week.”
It goes without saying the Chiefs have dealt with their share of injuries (so has Jackson, which at one point last week had more than a dozen players out due to injury or illness) this season, and that’s played a major role in shaping how this team is comprised.
One of the places they’ve managed to escape injury, however, is along the offensive line.
Logan’s senior-laden O-line helped the Chiefs run the ball for a school-record 562 yards in thumping visiting Portsmouth 54-27 last Friday night in Logan Chieftain Stadium.
“Most of our line are seniors and a lot of us grew up together,” said starting guard Brock Emerson, who comes from a long line of Chieftain football players. “Over the years we’ve switched spots on the line and we can fill almost any spot on the line, and I think that helped with what we’re doing this year. Some people switched positions and some people didn’t, but I think it’s easier to pick up on if you’ve already learned the position already.”
And to that end, Burke and the coaching staff have utilized what’s turned into their biggest asset to begin achieving success.
The line is “probably the reason we’re starting to have success,” Burke noted. “Those guys have jelled. We’ve moved guys around a little bit, and we’ve modified schemes a little bit too. It’s no secret that we were able to rush for a lot of yards with a couple different running backs (against Portsmouth) because the one thing that was constant was the offensive line.”
In Saturday morning’s film session, Burke noted the game recording was paused a couple times to show how the offensive line was establishing walls to both run behind and cut off of — and that’s playing to the team’s strengths.
“I think we’re the team that I thought we were capable of being before we started practice” this summer, Burke said. “I told the kids earlier this week that now is the time we’re going to evaluate how we handle success. How do we handle success (coming off) two wins? We’re about to find out this Friday.”
As Burke has said before, he noted that he would play to whatever the team’s strengths proved to be.
“We thought we had (good running backs) early in the season and due to injures we had to get away from that,” Burke said. “But now that we have those running backs back, it would be silly of me not to take advantage of the fact we have several guys capable of running the football. Plus we have an offensive line that’s pretty physical, so let’s let them do what they do well and take advantage of our personnel.”
Against Portsmouth, both Isaac Schmeltzer and Bryce McBride rushed for 223 yards, becoming the first tandem of runners in school history to eclipse 200 yards in the same game, and combined they only needed 19 carries to do so. Quarterback Nick Kost ran for 89, and newcomer Kaleb McKinnis got eight carries in his first varsity action as a Chieftain.
Both coach and player can see the confidence building.
“Winning over Nelsonville (and Portsmouth) the last couple of games, our confidence level (has been) boosted tremendously,” Emerson said.
“I had asked the team, specifically the seniors, what kind of concerns they had going forward now that’s we have some success, and what they felt good about,” said Burke. Several said that it was “our confidence level. They feel confident because they’re getting comfortable in the jobs (they are) being asked to do, which in turn allows us to play faster, which allows us to have success.
“The old adage is that you try not to do too much so that your kids know what they’re doing,” he added. “But at the same time, you don’t want it to be so simple that an opponent can prepare for you. We’re finding a nice balance of changing things up but at the same time keeping it simple so our kids can continue to play fast.”
There are several similarities when it comes to the Chiefs and the Ironmen.
Both teams have dealt with — and are still dealing with — a large amount of injuries (sophomore Lane Little, who started the season as Logan’s quarterback and was injured in the opener at Lancaster, might be back in uniform Friday night but, if so, is not expected to do anything more than hold for placement kicks); both teams want to run the ball, and both teams are physical. And both have great football traditions.
“Their formations look a little different than ours, but they have a multi-running back running attack like we’ve established as well,” Burke noted. “We’re essentially mirror images of each other. What’s nice about a game like this we can call it sort of a throwback game; if they do what we think they’re going to do, and we do what they think we’re going to do, (both teams will) run the ball at each other and see who’s more physical and tougher.”
Emerson knows that Jackson week brings about a different feeling among the players and an added sense of doing things right.
“Any time that we (get ready to) play Jackson, we always get hyped that week and practices are always good and hard,” Emerson said. “Going into that game everybody’s wound up. Going into this week our confidence level is really good and I feel that will help us out. I see it coming down to just a couple of points.”
When playing Jackson, “the first thing that comes to mind is that I know I have to stay lower than the guy over top of me, that I have keep my hands perfect and keep moving them, and I have to keep driving my feet,” he continued. “If I do (that), I feel that will help me succeed. We have to stop their run. They’re similar to us; we like to run the ball and they like to run the ball. Whoever can hit the hardest is going to win.”
The Chiefs are a motivated group that sees some of their goals, such as winning the SEOAL championship, within reach… but they know they have to fight for whatever they achieve and that it has to be earned.
“It’s obvious,” Burke said. “I don’t have to point that out to the kids. If we weren’t having success, then we’d have to find something else — play for pride, or whatever — but we’re playing for something very tangible.”
Emerson’s grandfather (Bob), father (Dave) and older brother (Trevor) all played for teams who won SEOAL championships — all played on undefeated Logan teams, as a matter of fact — so he knows how much this game means to his team, his senior class and to Chieftain Nation.
“Growing up, my brother and my dad talked about the league,” Emerson said, “and my brother said Jackson was always one of the hardest games he played.”
Chewing up yardage: McBride averaged a whopping 27.9 yards per carry last week and Schmeltzer averaged 20.3; the all-time single-game record for average yards per carry is 21.25 by John Cosgrove against New Lexington in 1994. However, the record is based on a minimum of 10 carries per game, and McBride only carried eight times while Schmeltzer had 11 carries. To show how much a difference one game makes, Schmeltzer hiked his per-carry average on the season by more than two yards (6.4, compared to 4.3 through the first five games) and McBride is averaging 19.1 yards per rush, nearly eight yards per carry more than 11.2 through five games. Cosgrove also has the all-time single-season record for yards per carry (9.58), also set in 1994, based on at least 100 total carries. Schmeltzer has 85 and McBride just 17 this fall. … The Chiefs have also excelled in return yardage this season. If you add in Schmeltzer’s 363 kickoff return yards (22.7 average, one touchdown) and punt return yards (13), he’s accounted for 919 total yards this fall. All told, the Chiefs have 771 return yards (kickoffs, punts and interceptions) to 406 for their opponents, with 97 of those coming on a kickoff return by Portsmouth’s Johnnie Charles last Friday.
Logan vs. Jackson: Even in the 2008 and 2009 seasons, when the Chiefs went undefeated, Jackson played the Purple & White solid both times. Logan’s 27-7 win in week nine was the Chiefs’ second-closest game of the 2009 season, and the Chiefs had to come on strong in the second half to break open a 48-7 victory in 2008. Jackson’s wins the last three seasons have been by scores of 31-20 (last season), 49-32 (2011) and 49-28 (2010). … As you will read in the Jackson preview, Jackson has the all-time series against Logan as being 45-43-4 Chiefs, while Logan’s records have it at 45-41-4. Logan’s all-time records are counted from 1912 while Jackson’s includes a pair of Ironman wins prior to that. But whether this is the 93rd or 91st meeting between the two schools, it’s still the most games Logan has played against any single opponent.