Editor’s Note: “Chieftain Notebook” again goes on hiatus during Jackson week to bring you the Jackson preview side of Friday night’s game from Paul Boggs, sports editor of the Jackson County Times-Journal, an affiliate publication to The Logan Daily News.
JACKSON — For the Jackson High School football team, there is no denying that a payback to the Purple is on its mind.
“We really felt we let one get away at Logan last year,” said Jackson coach Andy Hall. “And it cost us a conference championship.”
That’s because the undefeated Ironmen are playing for much more than the one that got away, as the talented Chieftains come calling to Jackson for — in all likelihood — the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League championship rematch.
Jackson stands at 6-0 while Logan is 3-3, as the Ironmen aim to seize control from the defending champion Chiefs. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. inside what should be an electric, although perhaps rain-soaked again, Alumni Stadium.
The game also highlights Homecoming activities at Jackson High School.
Both clubs won their SEOAL openers, with Jackson dispatching Warren 28-5 and Logan pounding Portsmouth 32-7.
Truth be told, the league’s media members, Internet message board posters and other observers already had this contest circled in the summer. They shared the same opinion: essentially Friday night’s tilt boils down to an early SEOAL championship bout.
In his weekly media interview on Tuesday, Hall re-emphasized that a conference crown is the Ironmen’s first season goal. And, with the Chieftains as the returning champions, “the league championship goes through Logan.”
“Winning the SEOAL is always our number-one goal as a team. For us to win the conference championship, we have to get this game. To be the champion, you have to beat the champion,” said Hall. “Logan will be the favorite in every league game going forward. They’ve been in some really close games against some really good teams and could easily be 5-1 coming in here instead of 3-3.
“Logan has great athletes coming in here. We feel like this is going to be a heavyweight bout with two very good football teams. They (Chiefs) are well-coached, well-disciplined, they have good size, they have good speed and they have athletic ability. We have to have everything dialed up because it’s going to be one heck of a ballgame.”
All signs directly point to one anyway, as observers anticipate another close and hard-fought encounter — like Logan’s 28-21 triumph in the final 22 seconds last year.
Jackson (22) trails only Logan (26) for the most all-time SEOAL championships. The Chiefs have 17 outright conference crowns and the Ironmen 13, as the two have nine shared titles apiece.
Logan leads the all-time series 46-43-4, as the Chiefs have amassed a 1,491-1,329 total points advantage — or an average final score of 16-14 in favor of Logan.
The two teams did not face each other in 2006 or 2007, following the SEOAL’s expansion to 10 teams and a schedule rotation that had all schools not playing at least two opponents for two years.
Four years ago, Jackson scalped the Chieftains 49-28 to snap Logan’s 34-game league winning streak, which marked the beginning of the end of Logan’s six-year stranglehold as SEOAL champions. In fact, prior to that, Logan’s last league loss came against the Ironmen — a 21-14 tally on Oct. 1, 2004.
Prior to the ‘98 share, the Ironmen earned back-to-back outright crowns with a tri-title in 1995 with Warren and Gallipolis. The Ironmen won back-to-back outright titles in 2010 and 2011, before Gallia Academy won the championship two years ago.
Prior to the Chiefs’ five outright, both programs stood tied at 20 titles apiece. Gallia Academy, which won or shared three straight (2002 thru 2004) after Logan won three outright (1999 thru 2001), is next with 17.
But the Chiefs now own the longest league win streak (five), as well as the coveted championship… and, that means the most to the Ironmen.
The Red and White remained ranked second in Tuesday’s weekly release of the official Ohio High School Athletic Association Division III, Region 9 computer ratings.
In fact, the Ironmen’s (13.40 points average) gap with top-rated Logan Elm (13.85 points average) has narrowed to a razor-thin 45 one-hundredths of a point.
At regular season’s end, the top eight teams in each region qualify for the playoffs, while the top four teams in each region host first-round home tilts.
“I have no doubt that our kids will be ready. They have answered the bell each and every week and they understand the importance of this game,” said Hall. “We’re not worried about two or three weeks down the road or the playoffs or anything like that. This is the biggest game on our schedule and being 7-0 is definitely the goal.”
Hall said the Division II Chiefs present a package combination of what the Ironmen faced with their challenging three-game non-league stretch with West Jefferson (28-0), Columbus Ready (42-14) and Wheelersburg (27-0).
Despite Jackson sweeping that trio by at least four touchdowns apiece, each offered a different aspect for which the Ironmen had to game-plan.
“Logan may be the best of all three of those combined, and might be the best team we’ve played all year to this point,” said Hall. “They have great quarterback play and size up front like Wheelersburg does. They have good running backs like Ready had. They have the diversity on offense like West Jefferson did. You combine those last three non-league teams we played, and you get Logan in a certain sense.”
Hall further illustrated his point by breaking down the Chiefs’ individual strengths.
Quarterback Lane Little (5-11, 155, Jr.) leads the way with 1,083 passing yards and 13 touchdowns on 70 completions of 130 attempts, while Bryce McBride (5-11, 190, Jr.) carries the rushing load with 580 yards and nine TDs on 64 totes.
That’s an excellent 9.1 yards per carry, as Dean Jordan (5-11, 200, Sr.) adds 309 yards and three scores on 46 tries.
Little’s top targets are easily six-foot, four-inch junior Isaiah Smith (24 receptions, 400 yards, 16.7 yards per catch and 6 TDs) and six-foot, two-inch senior Chance Cox (28 receptions, 409 yards, 14.6 yards per catch and 5 TDs).
The Chieftains are averaging 37 points per game, and have scored 80 first-period points and 74 in the second quarter. They scored 42 and 40 in season-opening losses to 4-2 Lancaster and 4-2 Teays Valley, before hammering Meigs (55-7) and Nelsonville-York (40-7).
“Their quarterback Lane Little was out against us last year, but has had a good season this year, throwing for over 1,000 yards in six games. Their two receivers, Isaiah Smith and Chance Cox, are maybe the two best receivers we’ve seen all year. They have great size at 6-4 (Smith) and 6-2 (Cox), and are very athletic and make great plays,” said Hall. “Logan averages around 15 yards per completion, which means they like to throw it vertically. Our secondary is going to have a big test this week. We will have to be in the run game somewhat, but the secondary’s first responsibility this week will be the pass.
“We’ll have to do a good job of covering guys and making open-field tackles, which is always crucial against spread-type teams,” said Hall. “Then the McBride kid at running back puts up some numbers and he is a good one. He will be one of the better backs that we will see this year. He gets downhill, is a strong runner and is very physical at the point of attack.”
And, Hall stressed the importance of the Ironmen’s ability to be physical with the Chiefs.
Jackson’s strength lies within its running game, as five backs have at least 20 carries and 149 yards.
“They (Chiefs) are a 5-2 and 5-3 ballclub (defensively). They like to put a lot of guys on the line of scrimmage and play a lot of man-to-man coverage. There will be times when they have 10 guys within six or seven yards of the football. They’re going to put pressure on you to try to throw the ball, using their man-to-man concepts to swarm to the football and try to stop the run,” said Hall. “I can see them really trying to concentrate on our run game this week. Our offensive line will have to really come ready to play. Our run game is what we do best and everyone knows that and we don’t hide that fact. Our physicality has to be of number-one importance for us to be victorious. I think that’s the case every week.”
Hunter Sexton has completed 27-of-65 passes for 484 yards and four touchdowns, with Austin Leach easily leading with 15 receptions for 254 yards and three scores.
The Ironmen, though, must take better care of the football — and commit fewer penalties than they did in a sloppy yet rain-impacted performance against Warren. Of the Ironmen’s six turnovers this season, half were against the Warriors.
“We can’t be turning the ball over like we did last week. We have to protect the ball and value every possession,” said Hall. “On our punt and punt return teams, we didn’t do a good job of blocking up front. A couple of times, we could have had the punt blocked. We had every one of our punt returns last week called back due to some type of penalty. These are things we’ve worked to correct in practice and must do a better job of on Friday night.”
Indeed, for when a Purple payback is involved — with league title implications at stake — execution is the key concern, as opposed to mental preparation.
“There’s not a lot of pregame speeches this week. The kids understand the importance and what this means,” said Hall. “Logan has three wins with a good chance to win out after this week and go 6-4. That’s a lot of computer points from a Division II team, but most importantly, a chance to hopefully win a conference championship. So it’s big on a lot of fronts.”