Young receivers step up big for Chiefs
| || |
Lane Little throws school-record five touchdown passes as Logan remains unbeaten with hard-fought 47-31 victory over Cambridge
By CRAIG DUNN Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
LOGAN — Somehow, the Logan Chieftains were able to clone their Superman.
With standout do-everything receiver Isaiah Smith sidelined with an injury late in the opening quarter, the Purple & White turned to a group of young receivers to take his place against a scrappy pack of Cambridge Bobcats Friday night in Logan Chieftain Stadium.
And, led by Superman’s alter ego, Clark Kent — er, Lane Little — the Purple & White not only survived, but they thrived.
Little threw a school-record five touchdown passes — to five different receivers — as the Chiefs outscored the Bobcats 47-31 in the first-ever gridiron meeting between the two teams.
“Injuries are a part of the game… you never know when your number might be called,” Logan coach Billy Burke said. “I bet if we polled a bunch of guys on the sideline, none of them would have thought we would lose Isaiah at any point. He’s our Superman. But at the same time, somebody has to step up.”
“The one that sticks out in my mind is Riley Nelson going up and making an Isaiah-style catch” late in the third quarter, Burke recalled. “I tell kids that if you want to be good, watch good players. If you want to be good, you watch Isaiah Smith. You go out and do what he does, you act like he does, you prepare like he does… and what better influence on a guy like Riley than Isaiah?”
The undefeated Chieftains (4-0), ranked No. 15 in this week’s Associated Press Division II poll, had their hands full with the Bobcats (2-2) all night long.
Cambridge had its own standout QB. Senior Josh Lewis completed 17-of-29 passes for 296 yards and a pair of touchdowns and also ran for another score.
But it was Little who stole the show.
Six different Chieftains — including Little — had thrown four TD strikes in a single game since records started being kept in 1912. Little had done it himself three times prior to Friday night.
His record-setting fifth was a 76-yard bomb down the middle to Wallace with 8:10 left in the game that gave Logan some cushion after Cambridge had closed the gap to 35-31 late in the third period.
Little also just missed the school record for passing yardage in a single game. His 321 yards — while completing 21-of-29 pass attempts — was just three yards behind the school mark of 324 set by Patrick Angle against Pickerington North in 2008.
“What a competitor,” Cambridge coach Kevin Gunn said of Little. “He was doing everything for them. He would break containment and make big plays, and when we tried to contain him he was throwing the ball. What an outstanding game he had. He was the difference in what we wanted to do and what they did. Kudos to them.”
Time and time again, Little escaped the clutches of frustrated oncoming and pursuing linemen, oftentimes scrambling from one side of the field to another and almost always turning it into a positive play.
“Things went really well for our offense tonight,” Little said afterward. “We were clicking on all cylinders. Throwing five touchdown passes was a great thing for me, but losing Isaiah in the first quarter, that was big. We needed receivers to step up.
“Riley Nelson, Tommy Breining and Jenson Wallace stepped up big and made plays that Isaiah would make,” he added. “Them stepping up when we needed them is a big part of me throwing five touchdown passes.”
Logan has seen its share of elusive quarterbacks already this season — including Cambridge’s Lewis — but none have been harder to catch in the open field than Little himself.
“Seeing the field’s a big part of it,” Little noted. “You have to know who the contain guy’s going to be on the backside and where he’s going to be. When it comes to scrambling I just do the best I can not to get hit. I don’t want to get tackled. The receivers did a great job coming back (to the ball). It opened up our running game and that made everything click.”
The Logan ground game can’t be ignored either. McBride ran for 186 yards and two ground scores, giving him three touchdowns on the night. Logan amassed 529 total yards (208 rushing, 321 passing), and Little became another weapon the Chiefs unleashed upon an opponent.
Assistant coach and offensive coordinator Brian Breining “and I had a conversation” earlier in the week, Burke recalled. “In the first couple games, Lane really wasn’t a huge part of our offense. He did his job like Lane does his job. We ran the ball and threw some balls up to Isaiah, but we never had the ball in Lane’s hands to try and win the game in his hands.
“Brian said it best this week: ‘guess what? The ball will end up in Lane’s hands,’ ” Burke added, “and (Little) was the difference in the game. There’s the three-headed monster of our offense — Isaiah, Bryce and Lane in the skill positions — and (we have a) fourth, our offensive line. You take away one thing and we still have a weapon we haven’t really used in Lane. We were able to really take advantage of his skill set tonight.”
Smith caught one of his signature TD passes to cap off the game’s opening drive, hauling in a fade pass from Little in the back left corner of the end zone to complete a 13-yard scoring play with 7:18 left in the opening period. He also kicked the extra point.
Cambridge quickly retaliated, going 81 yards on just five plays for the tying score. Lewis hooked up with Josh Seckman on a 31-yard pass play right out of the gate and, four plays later, went deep to Seckman again. The senior wide receiver broke a tackle at the Logan 18-yard line en route to a 50-yard, game-tying catch-and-run.
The Bobcats then took a 14-7 lead with 32 seconds left in the opening period when, on third down, Lewis took a keeper almost untouched eight yards around left end.
The Chiefs lost Smith with an injury late in the opening period. He returned to be with his teammates in his jersey top and shorts in the second half, but his future availability won’t be known until next week.
Logan came right back, however, and needed only 32 seconds to score on the final play of the period. A 46-yard catch-and-run by Nelson got the Chiefs to the Cambridge 32, then Little found Breining wide open near the 5-yard line and the junior backed his way into the end zone as time expired to pull Logan within 14-13.
A Brendan Karns interception set the stage for a 17-yard scoring run by McBride with 5:05 left in the half. That put the Chiefs ahead, then Breining caught the ensuing 2-point conversion pass after Little scrambled all over the place to avoid the Cambridge defense.
The Bobcats quickly drew even. It took just four plays for Cambridge to score with 3:42 left in the half on a William Lowe 2-yard run, set up by a 16-yard Lewis-to-Seckman pass and a 26-yard ramble by Lowe.
Undaunted, the Chiefs came right back. They went 65 yards on 14 plays to take the lead for good with just 12.1 seconds left in the half.
Little hit a variety of receivers with short passes to gradually work the ball downfield before being faced with fourth-and-1 from the Cambridge 5.
Little was forced to scramble — again — and reversed his field from the right side to the left, running around 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage before getting his bearings and spying McBride all alone on the left side.
McBride clutched the ball into his stomach and eased into the end zone to put Logan in front, then Little hit Wallace with a 2-point conversion pass for a 29-21 halftime advantage.
“That’s a testament to our character as kids, our senior leadership, our tenacity and our stick-to-itiveness,” Burke said. “That’s the theme of the game tonight… it’s just the stick-to-itiveness that we had. We could have easily gave and up and gave in without Isaiah Smith playing — ‘my gosh, what are we going to do? There’s no way. He does so much for us’ — but at the same time, other guys get opportunities.”
Seckman caught a 24-yard TD pass down the middle from Lewis with 8:46 left in the third period and Adam Fox’s PAT kick closed Cambridge within 29-28.
But Logan answered once again. The Chiefs drove 50 yards on just five plays, with Nelson making a leaping grab — à la Smith — in the right corner of the end zone to complete a 17-yard scoring play to make it 35-28 with 3:22 left in the third stanza.
Fox booted a 28-yard field goal a couple minutes later to close the Bobcats within 35-31 and, after forcing a Logan punt, the Bobcats drove to the Logan 26, but Nelson picked off a Lewis pass in the end zone to end what would be Cambridge’s final serious threat.
Little hurled the ball deep for a wide-open Wallace and the aforementioned game-breaking, 76-yard TD play two plays later.
Fox missed a 43-yard field goal with 3:36 left in the game before the Chiefs iced the win with 59 seconds left when McBride rambled 52 yards to paydirt.
“The last two games our kids have played with intensity and physicality. That is exactly what we want to be able to do,” Gunn said. “I’m very pleased and happy with their efforts. We’ll just continue to grow and develop. Once we get at full strength (and get some injured players back) we’ve got a nice team. The kids are playing hard and I can’t ask any more of them.
“That’s the one thing I’m so proud of,” he added. “They could have folded the tents, but they kept fighting back and kept scrapping. That makes me real proud to coach these kids.”
Burke is awfully proud of his kids as well.
“It’s our kids,” he praised. “What’s somebody going to throw at us now that we haven’t kind of already seen in a game situation? You can’t simulate the chaos that goes into a Friday night, and I would say three of our four games have been pretty chaotic. I guess we’re used to it.”
The Chiefs thus take that precious 4-0 slate into a rivalry game at Nelsonville-York next Friday night. Going back to the end of last season, Logan has now won six-consecutive games.
“And we’re a battle-tested 4-0,” Burke noted. “But we have some things to improve upon. Obviously on defense we have to do a better job defending the pass. That field’s really wide these days with kids being able to sling the ball around the field (and) we have to do a better job (of getting defensive) flat players to get out there and look receivers up and try to make plays. Our corners have to break a little bit better.”
Little says 4 - 0 isn’t nearly enough.
“That’s a big accomplishment, but we can’t get high on 4-0,” stated Logan’s field general. “We still have six football games left. Going 10-0 would be great. We’ll talk about that then. (Going) 10-0 and getting a home playoff game is our goal.”