LOGAN — While the Logan Chieftains were winding up their 2017 season in late October, the Tri-Valley Scotties were playing playoff football into the first week of December.
Both teams lost a number of players from those ’17 teams: Logan graduated 15 seniors from a team that went 3-7, and Tri-Valley saw 20 depart from a squad that went 13-2, won 13 games in a row and lost 27-19 to Trotwood-Madison in the state Division III championship game.
They will collide Friday (7 p.m. kickoff) in Logan Chieftain Stadium to open the 2018 season.
It will be the first-ever regular-season contest between two teams whose only meeting was in a 2007 opening-round playoff game — the final game played at historic Bill Sauer Field — which T-V won 31-26.
“That’s five extra games of preparation” for last year’s T-V juniors and sophomores, noted Logan coach Billy Burke. “A senior has five extra weeks under his belt getting ready and understanding what competition’s like at that level.
“I would say that’s the biggest thing they’ll certainly have over us,” he continued. “We don’t understand what it takes to win some of those games. If you look back at their games in the playoffs, they weren’t blowouts. They gutted a lot of them out. I anticipate those kids bringing the same mentality into this season too.”
Tri-Valley’s first three playoff wins were by an average of six points per game (one in overtime) before the Scotties avenged their only regular-season defeat by thumping Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary 24-6 in a DIII state semifinal.
But it’s a new calendar year, a new season, and the Chieftains would like nothing more than to open their campaign with a victory over a defending state Division III runner-up.
After all, they’ve done it before.
“A couple years ago we played the (previous season’s) state runner-up and that was quite a score-fest,” Burke said, recalling the Chiefs’ wild 61-49 victory over Athens to lead off the 2015 schedule. “I don’t anticipate that type of score-fest this year against Tri-Valley.”
The Chiefs closed out their practice-game schedule last Thursday with a 31-7 loss to host Canal Winchester in the annual OHSAA Jamboree scrimmage, which was played like a regular game with the exception of not returning kicks.
The score doesn’t indicate as such, but the Chiefs, after a slow start, played pretty well on both sides of the line. And what happened after the game certainly made an impression on Burke and the coaching staff when they spoke to the players and asked for their opinions about what had just happened.
“Different guys pointed out some different things that we needed to work on, and I agreed with all of them,” Burke said. “We were getting ready to start the long haul of the season and I was actually going to give the kids Friday and Saturday off. Well, a couple guys referenced that we needed to get in tomorrow (Friday) morning and look at the film and see what we need to correct.
“It was certainly very encouraging that we have a bunch of guys who are willing to do the stuff that’s not always fun in order to get better,” he continued. “The fact they wanted to be in here Friday morning was very encouraging. If they weren’t really bought in, they would relish that opportunity to get away. They wanted to get in and work to be at the best for the home opener, and I trust that we will.
“Football is 90 percent work… again, I’ll reference them wanting to be in here Friday morning: they’re willing to do the work that’s necessary. You really enjoy working with kids, win or lose, who have that kind of work ethic.”
The Chiefs found a number of items on both sides of the ball that they needed to improve upon this week with Tri-Valley waiting in the wings. They were missing a key player on defense last week.
“One of the things that was glaring was that we didn’t have Tyler Cummin in the secondary,” Burke pointed out. “He was nursing a sore shoulder so he sat out Thursday night. That was fine, because it gave some other kids an opportunity, but we need another guy back there to assume some of that ‘traffic cop’ type of role that Tyler plays in the defensive secondary. That was probably as much of an issue as anything last Thursday.”
Burke hopes that Cummin, a senior who missed nearly half of last season with an injury, is available to play this Friday. He was held out of the Canal Winchester scrimmage as a precautionary measure.
“I don’t think he can injure it any further,” Burke noted. “It’s the game of football and how much discomfort are you willing to play with. We know Tyler can play.”
The Chiefs also know that senior offensive/defensive lineman Sam Hall can play. He’s a little dinged up and didn’t play at CW.
“It’s a little bit like an NFL pre-season game; there’s no need to evaluate guys who’ve been playing the last couple years when you know they can play,” Burke said. “What’s good is to get other guys game opportunities in their place and we were able to do that.
“Now we have to make some tough decisions on how much a guy gets an opportunity now,” he continued. “We’re done with scrimmages, so now your opportunity to earn time is that you have to compete during the week.
“I tell the kids all the time if the scout offense blocks the varsity defense I have to find a way to play those (scout) guys on varsity offense. And if we can’t block you then you need to play varsity defense. The more guys that we have who are capable of playing on Friday nights the better we’re going to be. Guys need to show that.”
And the Chiefs can now get more specific about their opponent with the Friday night lights officially going on this week.
“Now we can specifically game plan,” Burke said. “There were some things maybe we did on Thursday that we still needed to see in live rep action. We really couldn’t prepare for Canal Winchester — we didn’t have their game film — so some of it is a little bit blind and we’re still continuing to get some guys real game opportunities.”
The Scotties — aka the Dawgs — not only lost those 20 seniors but their head coach.
Justin Buttermore left Dresden in the off-season to take over the head coaching job at Granville and was replaced by Kevin Fell, a 66-year-old, hall-of-fame veteran with 273 career coaching victories.
“I know they replaced their quarterback like we’re replacing our quarterback,” Burke noted. “Coming off a very successful season they’ve lost some senior talent, which is to be expected. They have some guys who are learning their way.
“They seem to be pretty similar defensively as they were the last couple of years,” he continued. “I’ve heard their former coach speak at coaching clinics about defensive play, and what I see defensively (with the ’18 team) is pretty similar. Offensively they seem to be a little bit more spread to pass than they were spread to run maybe a year ago, so they’re a little different than us offensively and maybe a little more like Canal Winchester but a little more like us on defense than Canal Winchester was.”
Said Burke: “We have a good system and plan in. We just need to refine what we do and guys completely understanding and feeling comfortable with what we do so they can play as fast as possible.”
The Logan offensive line played well in last Thursday’s scrimmage. That helped the Chiefs play a ball-control offense and maintain possession for nearly 20 minutes in the first half.
“I was really proud of our offensive line,” lauded Burke. “Just like any year going into your first game, we have some new guys. The (previous) day in practice we didn’t have a lot of push (but) Thursday night, that wasn’t the case. Everything we did was on their side of the line of scrimmage. We had great push by our offensive line.
“Some of the plays an offensive lineman might have a special assignment like to pull, or what have you, and we’re starting to pick up the nuances of doing that,” he added. “I would say our offensive line play has really been key for us in being able to maintain possession of the football and move the football. If we think a play can get us three yards on fourth-and-1, I expect us to get three yards.”
The Chiefs won’t have much room for error this season, so they can’t afford penalties or turnovers. While they didn’t give the ball away last week, they did have 11 five-yard penalties, several of which proved costly on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
Fixing that issue comes with experience.
“It certainly does,” Burke agreed. “I think we learned our lesson. It’s pretty glaring if you’re the guy who caused a big play to come back. We had a play-action pass that we threw to Garrett Mace (which would have gained 40 yards) that got called back due to (an illegal) man downfield. So if that doesn’t send a message to learn our lesson, nothing will.
“And we’re doing a better job cleaning up our snaps,” he added. “That cannot be an issue. We can’t (get the offense going) if we can’t get the ball into the quarterback’s hands to start the play.”