Time to renew Logan-N-Y football rivalry
LOGAN — As the final running-clock minutes of their 30-point loss quickly ticked away last Friday night in rural Ashland County, the Logan Chieftains found themselves right back where they were at the same time last season.
The Chiefs were 1-3, as they were in 2013; they had lost their first two games of the season, as they did in 2013; they had come back to post a week-three victory, as they did in 2013; and then — yes, as in 2013 — they had run head-on into a superior Loudonville team in week four.
Can history repeat itself? Can the ‘14 Chiefs follow in the footsteps of their ‘13 brethren?
While the answers won’t be completely revealed until Halloween Night at Warren, the Purple & White at least hope to take the first step when they host the Buckeyes in their annual Homecoming game this Friday (7 p.m. kickoff) in Logan Chieftain Stadium.
“When we wrapped up last week and talked to the kids on Monday, we said that we’re not in unfamiliar territory,” Logan coach Billy Burke said, “but with the exception of we lost the first two games (this season) by five points and we felt pretty good about both of them.”
Not only will Friday be Homecoming in the traditional sense of crowning of a queen and having a Saturday night dance, but it’ll be a literal — and most welcome — return home for the Chiefs as well.
The Purple & White haven’t played a varsity game in Logan Chieftain Stadium since opening their season with a heartbreaking 43-42, double-overtime loss to Lancaster a month ago.
Since then, a three-game road swing wasn’t particularly kind to the Purple & White. Their lone victory — a resounding 55-7 win two weeks ago at Meigs — was bookended by 44-40 and 43-13 losses at Teays Valley and Loudonville, respectively.
“It’s really déjà vu all over again,” said Burke, using Yogi Berra’s familiar malapropism. “I look at Nelsonville like a league contest. It’s the first game before we start the league (against) a close rival. We need to use coming back home as a way to establish some momentum going forward into the second half of the season.”
The Chiefs are finally home — albeit for just one game, since they hit the road again the next two weeks for SEOAL tests at Portsmouth and Jackson — and they need to begin the turnaround process against a Nelsonville-York (3-1) team whose only loss was to undefeated, state-ranked (No. 2 in Division VII) and defending state D7 runner-up Trimble.
And this year’s Logan seniors no doubt remember the last (and only) time N-Y visited Logan Chieftain Stadium. Two seasons ago, when they were sophomores, the Buckeyes both outplayed and embarrassed the Purple & White by a 50-0 count.
“They’re not going to be somebody they’re not,” Burke said of the Buckeyes. “What you see on film is what I believe you are going to get. They’re going to pack guys in the box and make you try to beat them by throwing the football.
“Offensively they’re going to try to ground and pound it, as they should — we haven’t shown the ability to be able to withstand the running game and really defend it — so we’re going to see them in the I (formation) and hammer the football and see them trying to stop the run,” he added. “They’ll be the Nelsonville you see every year.”
Which means the Buckeyes will be (and are) a good, solid, fundamental football team — but they will be without their leading rusher, sophomore Alex Mount, who was injured in last week’s victory at River Valley.
They say when rivals square off, the old adage to “throw out the record books” almost always rings true. Former Chiefs head coach Dale Amyx also used to add that it wasn’t a rivalry if one team dominated.
Seeing as how the two teams have won on each other’s home field the last two seasons — the Chiefs edged the Buckeyes 14-12 last year at Boston Field — that seems to be the case heading into Friday.
“It’s not like we’re playing a team that’s an hour-and-a-half away that we don’t really know or haven’t had much history with,” Burke said. “That’s why I look at this rivalry game as a great way to get ready for league play. The atmosphere is that of a big game because it’s your rival.”
Being more than two hours away, Loudonville obviously didn’t fall into that category. The Redbirds were, however, a solid, talented football team that was better than the Chiefs both last week and last season.
“Let’s not kid ourselves: Loudonville was a pretty tough team,” Burke said, “but if we don’t make the mistakes (Logan had two punts blocked and also botched fielding a Loudonville kickoff) we make on special teams, (and if) we jump on the ball on the kickoff return, it could have been a different game in the sense of momentum.
“When bad things happen that aren’t supposed to, like what happened on special teams, that’s a huge punch in the stomach as far as momentum goes,” he added.
Loudonville also had the advantage of being battle-tested and experienced, having been in the state playoffs each of the past two seasons… and is apparently primed to do so again this fall.
“That’s a seasoned team that’s been in the playoffs a couple years. The seniors we were competing against have got an extra half-season of football in their career compared to our guys, who haven’t had any playoff experience,” Burke noted. “There’s something to be said about playing an extra couple weeks each season. They were a physically-solid high school football team.”
The Chiefs were down just six points late in the first half, but the Redbirds turned all four of Logan’s turnovers into touchdowns (27 points total), and that’s something few teams are going to be able to overcome.
“One thing we saw was the idea of physically competing,” Burke pointed out. “It’s not always going to be drawn up as we like it; sometimes you have to get out there and just have to adapt and compete.
“Sometimes you have to adjust (to an opponent) during a game and say that ‘I have to be prepared for what he does to me and not just go out there and allow him to do whatever he wants every single time’ because it wasn’t exactly how we practiced it or drew it up,” he continued. Opponents “make little tweaks and adjustments during the week as well to have something their opponent hasn’t seen. That’s something we have to adjust to.
“It’s hard to simulate what another team does because they’re good at what they do and it may not be the same scheme as (you are used to), so sometimes it’s totally foreign to the guys you’re asking to simulate (in practice) and you won’t actually experience it until you get there. We have to adapt on the run, too.”
Loudonville — ranked No. 4 in this week’s state Associated Press Division VI poll, up three slots from last week — was also the best-balanced offense the Chiefs have seen this season. Led by All-Ohio quarterback Kolton Edmondson, the Redbirds ran for 254 yards and passed for 143 more.
“They were able to spread us out to run us because we still had to defend the pass as well,” Burke pointed out.
The Logan offense did have more success moving the ball last Friday (209 total yards) than they did last season (minus-6 yards of total offense and minus-30 yards on the ground) in Logan Chieftain Stadium against a stout Loudonville defense.
“I told the team that we were going to make it a point to run the football,” Burke pointed out. “We manipulated our scheme a little bit. I felt good about it. For the most part we had some pretty good success running the football.”
While the Chiefs only netted 58 rushing yards — they lost at least a couple-dozen more as the result of quarterback sacks — they did create and find some holes in the Loudonville defense. But when those four turnovers put them behind, they were forced to change their approach and couldn’t run the ball as often.
“We got off-schedule because of the things we didn’t do well on special teams, but I thought we ran the ball pretty well against a pretty solid defense,” Burke said. “I’m pretty encouraged with that. It’s the making plays aspect that we want to get back to… just playing football as opposed to losing our concentration if things aren’t going exactly right. Just go out there and play.”
And that’s exactly what he wants the Chiefs to do Friday night.
“We had a great day of practice Monday, a very spirited practice, and we kind of got back to the basics of things,” Burke said. “I felt that was something we needed to do. We did some (work on) basic blocking and defeating of blocks and we’ll continue to do that throughout the week.
“We hope to put together a complete game — offense, defense and special teams — against a quality opponent that’s having some success right now,” he added, “and see if we can’t get one of those momentum swings to go in our favor.”