Road to title in shrinking SEOAL goes through defending champ Jackson
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By SPENCER WAUGH for The Logan Daily News
Down to just four teams, the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League enters what could be its final season.
Gallipolis, one of three remaining founding members, will exit the league following the 2015-2016 school year for membership in the Ohio Valley Conference. Defending champion Jackson expects another run at perfection. Whoever takes home the 2015 championship may lay the claim for good.
Here is a look at the SEOAL, team by team:
Gallipolis returns seven starters on offense and six on defense — but one key holdover, Wes Jarrell, will not suit up for the Blue Devils in 2015. The talented slot back and linebacker had an eligibility issue and won’t be on the Blue and White roster.
Senior Kole Carter (5-11, 185), a 2014 All-SEOAL selection, returns at quarterback where he ran for a team-high 463 yards and four touchdowns in 2014 while completing 50 of 105 passes for 697 yards and seven touchdowns.
Eric Ward (5-10, 190, senior) is the next-highest returning rusher with 125 yards and one score last season. Isaiah Holley (5-8, 145, senior) should also see time in the backfield for the Blue Devils.
Matt Bailey (5-9, 150, senior) and Russell Matthew (6-0, 165, senior) are the top returning pass targets.
The Blue Devils are an experienced group up front with Brett Johnson (6-3, 240, senior), Anthony Sipple (6-1, 200, senior), and Justin Reynolds (5-10, 200, senior) all returning starters. Sipple was first team All-SEOAL last season while Johnson and Reynolds were honorable mention.
On defense, expect Sipple and Johnson to anchor the defensive line while Brett Hively (6-0, 185, senior) will play as a hybrid defensive end-linebacker.
Reynolds and Ward return at inside linebacker with Holley joining on the outside.
In the secondary, Matthew, Bailey, and Garrett Burns (5-10, 150, sophomore) will all play in the secondary.
The Jackson Ironmen captured their 23rd SEOAL title on their way to an 11-0 start, a season that ended with a playoff loss to Columbus St. Francis DeSales in a regional semifinal.
With 13 returning starters, including quarterback Hunter Sexton (5-11, 215, senior), perhaps the biggest hurdle for the Ironmen will be expectations.
While Jackson always expects a lot out of its football teams, rarely has a team advanced to the second round of the playoffs and returned such a large number of key players. While replacing last season’s SEOAL MVP Reagan Williams, now playing at Stanford University, will be the most difficult task, the Ironmen could be even more balanced all over the field this season.
The offense will start with Sexton, entering his third season as the starting quarterback. Sexton rushed for 586 yards and three scores last year on 92 carries while completing 40 of 90 passes for 720 yards and six touchdowns.
Johnny Farley (5-8, 165, junior) and Raymon Potter (6-2, 225, junior) were two of the team’s top rushers last season and return with Blake McCoy (5-9, 162, sophomore) adding depth.
Austin Leach (6-0, 166, senior) is the team’s top returning receiver.
Offensive tackle Elijah Woolum (6-4, 280, senior) is collecting Division I offers. Codey Roseberry (6-1, 240, junior), Tre Barger (6-0, 235, senior) are also experienced.
The Ironmen were dominant defensively last fall, and could be even stronger in 2015. Billy Cooper (6-0, 205, junior) and Roseberry return on the three man defensive line while Barger and Potter both return in the linebacking corps.
Sexton and Rhys Jones (5-9, 166, senior) both return at the safety positions with Conley and Austin Edwards (6-0, 189, senior) return at cornerback.
Cameron Williams (6-3, 225, junior), a transfer from Wellston, will be eligible after the first five weeks and adds depth at tight end and linebacker.
Sheldon Moore (5-11, 188, senior) returns at the kicking spot after scoring 50 points last season.
The Logan Chieftains will look to build on last season’s 5-5 (3-1 SEOAL) record behind a talented senior class.
Third-year head coach Billy Burke’s Chieftains upset the Jackson Ironmen in 2013 to steal the championship, but Jackson got its revenge with a 42-7 domination last fall.
Logan’s offense will go as far as quarterback Lane Little (5-11, 155, senior), running back Bryce McBride (5-11, 185, senior), and receiver Isaiah Smith (6-3, 186, senior) will carry them.
Little, who missed nearly all of his sophomore season due injury, completed 107 of 195 passes for 1,438 yards and 14 touchdowns and only three interceptions in nine games last season. Smith led the team with 544 receiving yards and seven touchdowns on 37 catches, and McBride, who should become the school’s first four-year letter winner since 1963, rushed for 782 yards and 10 touchdowns on 91 carries.
While the Purple & White will search for playmakers after those three, they should also be strong up front behind guard Kory Henthorne (6-4, 250, junior), center Josh Rardain (5-10, 190, senior), guard Zach Buckley (6-0, 285, senior), and tackle Tommy Hayden (6-3, 205, senior).
Defensively, Logan will have to improve on its 23 points per game allowed to contend for a league championship and a spot in the Division II playoffs. Lancaster, Teays Valley, Loudonville, and Jackson all scored over 40 points against the Chieftains.
Henthorne, Eddie Lanning (6-4, 285, senior), Brandon Skinner (6-0, 285, senior), and Hayden were all key contributors on the defensive line last season.
Colton Stilwell (5-11, 220, senior), Dominic Micochero (6-0, 170, senior), and McBride return at linebacker.
Brendan Karns (6-0, 175, senior) returns at strong safety. Smith and Little will split time at safety while the defense will have to replace an experienced pair of cornerbacks.
The Warren Warriors, under second-year head coach Anthony Fish, look to climb out of the SEOAL basement after a disappointing 1-9 season a year ago. The lone win came against archrival Marietta, 19-8, in week two.
The Warriors will look to beat teams at the line of scrimmage and run the football, a rarity in high school football in 2015.
Jacob Davis (5-9, 185, senior) is the top returnee in the backfield where Bryce Gandee (6-2, 155, junior) is set to take over under center. Justus Johnson (5-9, 180, senior) is another option at running back.
Michael Smith (6-2, 185, junior) and Alex Mills (5-9, 145, junior) will be key targets in the passing game.
Daniel Price (5-9, 185, senior), Robert Fish (6-3, 215, senior), Monte Rowland (6-4, 270, senior), and Devon Bowling (5-10, 240, senior) all return on the O-line.
Defensively, Warren will build around an experienced defensive line bookended by Smith and Fish. Rowland will feature on the interior line.
Trevor Cochran (6-3, 215, senior) and Rowland return at linebacker where Davis will also contribute.
In the secondary, Johnson and Mills return at cornerback with Gandee likely to see some time at safety.
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Look for Logan football historian Spencer Waugh’s previews of the Chiefs’ opponent every Thursday in The Logan Daily News. Log onto loganfootball.com for more information.