By CRAIG DUNN Sports Editor email@example.com
LOGAN — You could see tears of joy and happiness being shed as the Logan Chieftains celebrated their hard-earned Southeastern Ohio Athletic League football championship Friday night in Logan Chieftain Stadium.
But if you took a closer look, you could see that some were also tears of sadness.
Shortly after the Chiefs clinched the outright SEOAL crown with a season-ending 49-22 victory over visiting Warren, it slowly began to sink in: there was no game next week to prepare for.
A lot of those tears were the realization that a magical season had just come to an end.
“We hadn’t had success (in recent) seasons, and we just stuck with it,” said senior running back Isaac Schmeltzer, who set a school record by scoring seven touchdowns (42 of Logan’s 49 points), “and now that it’s over, it doesn’t seem like it should be.”
He’s right. It doesn’t.
This wasn’t one of the all-time greatest Logan High School football teams… but when it comes to heart, it ranks right up there among the best.
“I put my life and soul into it because football’s all about heart,” said senior co-captain Austin Scarberry, the team’s leading tackler going into Friday’s season finale. “Some people think it’s size that matters. It’s not. It’s all about the heart. If you don’t have heart, you don’t have anything.”
Scarberry is a terrific example of that. It could be said nearly all of the undersized 5-foot-7, 185-pound running back/linebacker’s frame is comprised of heart.
The Chiefs finished their season with a 6-4 record — the program’s first winning record since ’09 — and with momentum they wished they could have carried into a week-11 playoff game.
Twenty seniors made the rite of passage known as the annual Senior Walk afterward. Linemen Brock Emerson and Caleb Myers carried their injured teammate, co-captain Nick Maniskas, as they made one last trip across the Logan Chieftain Stadium turf where they poured out their collective hearts for more than four months.
“Your expectation of your seniors is to set a standard, to set an example, to pave the way,” said first-year Logan coach Billy Burke. “Call it whatever you want, but you want them to represent themselves well their senior year so these underclassmen emulate/want to do better than the guys that came before them.
“There was a bit of a curve, (with) me settling in (and) these kids buying in and getting comfortable with me,” he added. “I don’t think it was a huge learning curve. We had some adversity early in the season that we had to weed our way through. Once we were able to do that, and once we were able to settle in and guys got healthy and learned to play their positions and knew their roles, we were able to get some things rolling.”
They certainly rolled Friday night.
Schmeltzer scored his seven touchdowns on runs of 48, 44, 9, 11, 26 and 2 yards, and also tallied on a 10-yard scoring pass from fellow senior Nick Kost, to break the old record of six touchdowns set by LHS Athletic Hall of Famers John Cosgrove (twice) and Derek Harden.
His 48, 44 and 9-yard TD runs all came in the game’s first eight minutes as the Chiefs established an insurmountable 21-0 lead.
Schmeltzer also rushed for a career-high 275 yards on 23 carries to become the 28th Chieftain all-time to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing (1,040) in a single season. He also finished the year with 20 touchdowns.
However, he refused to take full credit for his accomplishments — both Friday night and the entire season.
“I couldn’t do it without my teammates, my linemen, my receivers,” Schmeltzer said. “Every touchdown (Friday night) I had a hole the size of a semi-truck. If it wasn’t for the rest of my team I couldn’t have done it.”
And that was the mentality of this team.
When asked how he felt personally about winning a championship in his first year at the helm of the Chieftains, Burke deflected the question back at the purple-clad players still celebrating on the field.
“I have a hard time looking past the kids,” Burke said. “Really, I’m just a guy who has to make decisions sometimes. It’s them who are forced to do all the execution and actually put in all the painful stuff. Yes, I’m happy and I’m excited, but most of all I’m proud of what these guys accomplished.”
All of Chieftain Nation needs to be proud of this team, which brought home the school’s 26th all-time SEOAL championship.
They did it Friday night with an offense that generated 515 yards of total offense — 478 of them on the ground — and a defense that held the Warriors (3-7, 1-3) off the board until the Purple & White had established a 28-0 lead just 14 seconds into the second period.
The Logan defense forced Warren’s offense into back-to-back-to-back three-and-outs while the offense opened those aforementioned holes for Schmeltzer to run both through and around.
Warren coach Andy Schob knew it was coming, but saw that his Warriors were all but powerless to stop it. Logan punted only once all night.
“We had a good idea what they were going to do,” said Schob, “but they were so good at what they do that we couldn’t physically stop them. I told our kids earlier in the week (the Chiefs) are the best line, and the best team at what they do, that we will see all season.
“The way they move on their feet, the way they drive you, (and) their running backs run hard,” he added. “They have gotten so much better as the season went along. We watched film of them from week four or five, and they’ve come a long way. We’ve played some good running teams… none as good as (the Chiefs) are. This is the best running offensive team that we’ve played all year, and defensively they were physical. It was old-school Logan football right there.”
Special teams set a tone right off the bat. Senior Evan DeLong returned the opening kickoff 33 yards and gave the Chiefs a shorter 60-yard field to work with, and Schmeltzer put the Purple & White ahead to stay on the third play from scrimmage when he went off left tackle through one of those wide-open holes and went 48 yards to paydirt.
Schmeltzer broke a 44-yard sweep for six points around right end on the Chiefs’ second series, then capped off a five-play, 52-yard scoring drive with a 9-yard run with 4:10 still to play in the opening period.
When he added an 11-yard tally 14 seconds into the second quarter, Schob knew the hole would be just too deep for his team to escape.
“Once we get down we have to do some things that we don’t want to do,” Schob said. “They set the tempo with the way they dominated the line of scrimmage early, and it was an uphill battle for us the whole game. They’re too good — they’re not going to stop scoring and they’re going to do what they have to do.
“Congratulations to them,” he added. “They’re really good. I respect the Logan program as much as any in our league and in this area — and not that I wanted them to do that to us, but I’m happy for them to get (the SEOAL title) they wanted to get.”
“Weeks like this are a little bit nerve-wracking on a coach sometimes,” said Burke. “We coaches are nervous anyway, but when we feel good about ourselves, and have a game that we expect ourselves to win (in the) final week, you’re afraid of a letdown. But these kids showed who they are, they came to play, and they came to finish it off the right way.
“We ran a couple formations that put our older guys on the same side and solidified a side for us and let Isaac haul the mail behind them,” he added. “But he can’t do it if Nick Kost isn’t setting him up, without Austin Scarberry lead-blocking for him, and without Reggie (Wesselhoeft), Brock (Emerson), Caleb (Myers) and all of those guys. The threat of an Evan DeLong on the outside. Those are all things that factor in. No one guy can do it alone.”
Warren did put together a nice 12-play, 76-yard scoring drive in the second quarter, capped on a 2-yard scoring run by quarterback Austin Klintworth, as the Warriors pulled within 28-7.
But the Warriors fumbled the ball away at the Logan 34-yard line on the final play of the half, then, more importantly, fumbled away the opening kickoff of the second half. Brandon Arnett recovered for Logan, and the Chiefs — has it been said this was a team of opportunists? — took advantage.
Given a short 29-yard field to work with, the Chiefs overcame a holding penalty — the only miscues the Chiefs made all night were 127 yards’ worth of penalties — to score on fourth down.
Faced with fourth-and-goal at the Warren 10, the Chiefs elected not to go for the field goal and instead Kost rolled to his right and hit Schmeltzer with a short pass. Schmeltzer ran it in for a 35-7 Logan lead.
(And now, it can be stated in print: In case you hadn’t noticed — and, well, we didn’t want to jinx them — the Chiefs did not throw a single interception all season long. That was the last of 93 total passes Logan threw this season without a pickoff. Kost threw 78 of them. It’s believed to be the first time in school history the Chiefs didn’t throw a single interception in an entire season).
Warren used a 57-yard double-reverse pass from David Ryan to Jake Powell to help set up a 16-yard scoring run by Jared Isner midway through the third period, but the Chiefs answered with a 10-play, 80-yard drive capped by a 26-yard scoring run by Schmeltzer to make it 42-14 late in the third stanza.
Schmeltzer’s final touchdown, a 2-yard run midway through the final stanza, made it 49-14 before the Warriors ended the scoring with a 10-yard pass from Klintworth to Ryan with a little more than four minutes to play.
Kost, who rushed for a career-best 123 yards himself, ran for over 100 yards three times this season and was just the second Logan quarterback since 1968 (Patrick Angle did the trick in 2008) to run for 100 yards in a game.
For now, the Chieftains can rest on their laurels. But soon enough, off-season conditioning will start and, before you know it, the 2014 season will be upon us.
If that — and future — Chieftain teams show the heart this one did, they’ll be just fine.
“We turned the page (on the tough start), like coach Burke has taught us, and we got everything done,” said Scarberry, tears still in his eyes. “And I’d like to thank all of the upperclassmen who have passed through because we seniors wouldn’t be where we are without them.”
“I’ll be watching the underclassmen,” Schmeltzer said, his voice fading with emotion. “I’ll always remember our heart. All the seniors have shown heart through all the hardship, and we made it through and won league for the first time in (four) years. We couldn’t have done it without having the heart. That’s the biggest aspect about this team… the heart.”
“What’s also satisfying,” said Burke, “is that we accomplished what we said we would set out to do. That’s what’s most gratifying: meeting the expectations that you set for yourself.”
It took them four years, but the Chieftains have finally made it back to the top of the SEOAL football mountain… and now, having climbed that mountain, it’s time for them to enjoy the view.