LOGAN — With maybe only one exception, renewing football acquaintances with the Jackson Ironmen is about as close as the Logan Chieftains can get when it comes to enjoying the feeling of what it’s like to play a conference game.
So, when the two ancient rivals hook up Friday (7 p.m. kickoff in Jackson High School’s Alumni Stadium) as non-conference foes for the first time since the early 1920s, there will be nostalgia — and, more than likely, some rekindled purple and red bad blood — on both sides of the field like it used to be when, for nearly a century, the Chiefs and Ironmen played rugged Southeastern Ohio Athletic League football.
And while it certainly seems like it’s been forever since the two teams played, in actuality it’s been a little less than three years since the Ironmen topped the Chiefs 46-14 on Oct. 7, 2016 in Alumni Stadium to clinch the then three-team SEOAL’s final football championship.
The Chiefs will probably get a similar playing-a-league-game feeling in a few weeks when they visit Athens, another storied rival. And since the three teams are playing a round-robin of sorts — Jackson beat Athens 31-26 last week — the Purple & White could be playing for a de facto SEOAL crown.
New Logan coach Mike Eddy had his share of battles with the Ironmen, meeting up four times from 2009 to 2012 when Eddy served as head coach of the Gallia Academy Blue Devils. Those games were oftentimes competitive and hotly-contested.
“For the most part, I don’t know what it is, but I don’t think anybody likes them,” Eddy said of the Ironmen with a smile. “Every place that I’ve ever coached and you say something about Jackson, it’s ‘we don’t like those guys. I don’t know why that is.’ ”
But actually, he does know. And there’s mutual respect between the two camps.
“It’s because they’re successful. I think that’s what it is,” Eddy said. “There’s a lot of history here in southeastern Ohio, and they’ve perennially been a quality football team. They’ve had a lot of success... and with that I think comes a little bit of disdain from others.
“Since beginning coaching at Gallia I’ve gotten to know their coaching staff and (we got) to the point when we see each other we speak and talk,” he added. Head coach Andy Hall “does a great job down there. You know every game their kids are going to be very well-prepared. They’re well-coached and they’re very passionate about what they do. I think that’s part of why they are so successful.”
While it will be a meeting of teams with opposite records (Jackson 2-0, Logan 0-2), it’s not exactly like the Purple & White are going in an opposite direction that their former SEOAL brethren although Logan is riding a school record-tying nine-game losing streak dating back to early last season.
Logan’s first two Valley foes (Tri- and Teays) are both off to 2-0 starts. But the Chiefs did everything short of winning last Friday’s home opener against Teays Valley, dominating statistically but going down to a 10-7 defeat when the Vikings returned a bobbled kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown to open the second half.
The Chiefs absolutely dominated time of possession (32 minutes to 16), total yardage (267-72), offensive plays (63-31) and first downs (19-5) and had a pair of 100-yard rushers in Caden McCarty (110) and quarterback Braeden Spatar (104).
“It’s not very often that you statistically dominate a game the way we did and end up losing,” Eddy said. “That’s a rarity... but it also goes back to where we are in this process. We learned how to play the game, now we have to learn how to win the game. Those are two different things.
“That’s where we are,” he continued. “Our kids have proven they can play the game, now we (as coaches) have to help them learn how to win those games and we have to do that by putting them in the best positions possible.”
The Chiefs were certainly in a much-better position to win last Friday than they were on opening night when they lost 35-7 at Tri-Valley.
“I said to them... now that they’ve proven they can play from start to finish without looking for a way out and/or making an excuse, now that they’ve played as hard as they could play from the beginning of the game to the end of the game, now we can start working,” Eddy said. “They’ve proven that’s something they can do... and that’s important, because we hadn’t seen them do that yet.
“Week one (at T-V) we were put up against the wall and we didn’t respond well,” he continued. “We didn’t play the game properly or the way it needed to be played from a team concept. (But last Friday’s performance was) what we were waiting to see and that’s why I able to walk away from that game proud of those kids because they played the game the way it was meant to be played.
“They played it for each other and they played with great intensity and effort. You can walk away from that game obviously being disappointed because you didn’t win, but you’re still proud of what you’ve done. That’s the first building block and you can go from there.”
Eddy expects a little bit of everything from a Jackson team that will, as always, be as physically tough as any team on Logan’s schedule.
“They displayed a little bit of each (running and passing) in their first two games,” Eddy pointed out. “With Wellston (a 23-6 season-opening victory) they were all over the place as far as formations go. They did a little bit of everything. They went two tights (tight ends) and ran the ball, went a little bit of three wide receivers and threw the ball. They really showed how versatile their offense can be.
“Against Athens they brought everybody in the box,” he continued. “It was smash-mouth football and downhill most of the night. They had success moving the ball and ultimately won the football game.”
Last Friday, the Logan defense played about as well as can be expected — it didn’t hurt that Logan was finally near full-strength on that side of the line — as Teays Valley got all 10 of its points via special teams.
“The defense played within the system and just trusted each other to do their jobs,” Eddy pointed out. “With the style of defense we play, you can’t try to do somebody else’s job. You have to do your job to the best of your ability and trust the guy beside you is doing the exact-same thing.
“Coach (Pat) Walsh did a great job of really working the linebackers on how to move and read on the run,” he added. “I think it made a lot more sense to them this week after they went through some drills that were specifically designed to do that so we could disguise a little bit better when we were bringing pressure. I think that helped.”
Unlike the previous week at Tri-Valley, defensive play up front and in the backfield was solid as well.
“Our D-line did a great job of holding the line of scrimmage and not getting moved around, controlling their gaps (to) escape and react late and allow those linebackers to flow downhill and make plays,” Eddy said. “And the secondary was much improved. We didn’t give up that deep ball over the top like we did in week one.”
All in all, “we put a little bit more on their plate and gave them the power to make a lot of calls on the field,” he continued. “The more things we can do based on their understanding of schematics, the more versatile we’ll be able to be on defense. We did a variety of things last Friday and that bodes well for the future. We can give a lot of different looks and not just sit and play and hope we can stop you. That’s important.”
Eddy, who has become a student of Chieftain football history, fully understands that Jackson is a great rivalry game... but he’s going to keep emotions on an even keel until the Chiefs get off the bus once they’ve arrived in the Apple City.
“We’re going to try to save that part of it for Friday,” Eddy revealed. “One of the things we talked about this week was, based on where we are, our focus still has to be on us. If we spend Monday through Thursday blowing up the fact this is Jackson week, we lose focus on the fact that we still have to get better.
“I want to go to practice every day just focusing on what we need to do to improve,” he continued. “If we improve enough, we’re going to have an opportunity to beat Jackson. If we don’t make the kind of improvements and/or don’t understand the schematics of the game plan well enough, we’re not going to beat Jackson and it doesn’t matter if they’re a rival or not.”
Dale Amyx, the longest-tenured coach (20 years) in Chieftain football history and a member of the LHS Athletic Hall of Fame, always used to say no two teams can have a rivalry if one team dominates. Eddy echoed those sentiments this week.
“If you’re not prepared to play the game, it really doesn’t matter. It’s not much of a rivalry game if one team doesn’t have a chance to win,” he said. “This whole week is about correcting mistakes, getting guys healthy, understanding the game plan and being able to execute it and still working on base fundamentals.
“We’re still at that point with some starters,” he added. “Just coaching sport fundamentals is just as important as the overall picture so we still have a lot of work to do regardless who’s on the schedule. That’s emphasis number one. I’m concerned with making sure they understand the game plan and how to execute it properly.
“Then, on Friday evening, we want to be able to remind them about the history of these two teams and what it means for the future of our program and our team. Then we can talk about those things.”
And with D-lineman Nick Anderson being able to play — very effectively, it should be added — despite bruised ribs, and getting Garrett Mace and Josh Chapin back into the lineup last week, the Chiefs are about as close as they can get to being fully healthy, depending upon what happens in the late-week lead-up to Friday night.
“We were as close to having every starter on the field every snap as we can get during the course of a high school football season,” Eddy said. “It showed a lot of about the level of players we can put on the field when we’re healthy.
“We had two 100-yard rushers,” he added. Having “those two guys healthy, being able to spread the ball around and not just have to put the load on two guys is really important. We have some other guys who probably need to touch the ball a little more, so we have to be creative in how we can make that happen.”
Balancing the offense thus becomes paramount long before the team busses cross the Jackson County line late Friday afternoon.
“We were fortunate on Friday that for the most part we were able to pick up three, four, five yards (rushing) every time we just put our shoulder down and ran the ball,” Eddy said. “We had some opportunities later to throw in a little bit of the quick-passing game and get a little more experience doing that. (Throwing the ball is) something we haven’t had a lot of reps with in a game situation.
“It’s inevitable at some point during the year we’re going to have to throw the football,” he added, “so the more we can do that every week the better it will make us and strategically (being able) to throw the ball because we want to, not because we have to, because that’s a completely different concept.
“Even though we feel real comfortable as a running-based offense, we can’t just settle in and run it no matter what, because not everybody’s going to give you that opportunity. You’re going to have to have some balance on offense. That’s one of the focuses for this week to force ourselves through a game plan to be more balanced.”