GALLIPOLIS, Ohio — Opportunity knocked Friday night… and the Logan Chieftains were once again there to answer the door.
As they’ve matured into a championship football team this fall, the Purple and White have almost always taken advantage of opportunities provided them by their opposition.
Logan turned two huge Gallipolis miscues into 14 points Friday night at Gallia Academy’s Memorial Field … and those 14 points proved to be the difference as the Chieftains clinched a tie for the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League championship with a 35-21 victory.
Both Blue Devil miscues — an ill-fated fake punt and a fumbled kickoff, both inside the GAHS 40-yard line — eventually turned into touchdown runs by Logan senior running back Isaac Schmeltzer as the Chiefs (5-4 overall, 3-0 SEOAL) assured themselves of no worse that a share of the league title for the first time in four years.
“I genuinely like all these kids, and this group, a lot,” said Logan coach Billy Burke, who is assured of coaching the Purple and White to at least a piece of the league title in his first year at the helm. “Part of the reason I like them so much is that they’re very coachable. Whatever we ask them to do, however we ask them to respond to whatever the situation is, they do it.
“I respect them as young men because of that,” he added, “and (respond to every situation) is what we did tonight.”
While winning football games at Gallia Academy is not an easy task by any means, the Chieftains beat the Blue Devils for the fifth-straight time at Memorial Field and have won eight of their last nine football visits to the Old French City.
And, Friday night, they officially put an end to Gallia’s reign as SEOAL champion. The Blue Devils (5-4, 1-2), who won the 2012 title, were mathematically eliminated.
Now, only Jackson (5-4, 2-1) can tie the Chiefs atop the league. In order to do so, the Ironmen must beat Gallipolis next week and root for Warren to knock off Logan.
“You have to give a lot of credit to Logan,” said Gallia Academy coach Wade Bartholomew, the Blue Devils’ first-year head coach. “They did a great job running their game plan.”
While Logan didn’t totally hold the Gallipolis offense in check, the Chiefs did limit the Blue Devils to 238 total yards, primarily by keeping the ball away from them.
Logan ran 68 offensive plays to just 47 for the Devils, and possessed the ball for 29:29 of game time compared to 18:31 for GAHS. It was 9:42-2:18 in the fourth period alone.
And, as mentioned earlier, the Chiefs were quite the opportunists.
After seeing the Chiefs score 21 unanswered points to establish a 21-7 edge early in the second period, the Blue Devils pulled within 21-14 at halftime when quarterback Wade Jarrell connected with fellow senior Reid Eastman on a diving 9-yard touchdown pass with 4:08 left in the second period.
Then, after forcing a Logan punt on the opening series of the third period — the Chiefs’ only punt of the night — Jarrell connected with his younger brother, sophomore Wes Jarrell, on a 28-yard aerial to knot the game at 21-21 with 7:52 still to play in the third period.
Gallipolis had great momentum going… but couldn’t sustain it.
The Gallipolis defense held the Chiefs on fourth-and-one near midfield, but Logan forced the Blue Devils to punt to get the ball right back. It was a short punt, and Logan quickly moved from its own 36-yard line to the GAHS 33 as the third quarter ended.
On the first play of the final stanza, Logan quarterback Nick Kost threw to the goal line for 6-foot-8 junior tight end Kevin Fisher, who leaped above double coverage and hauled it in for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.
The Blue Devils fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Evan DeLong recovered for the Chiefs at the GAHS 38.
From there, Logan scored on 11 plays for a huge insurance touchdown. The Chiefs converted a fourth-and-two when Bryce McBride gained five yards around left end, then Kost converted a third-and-five with a 9-yard run.
A little later, after Kaleb McKinnis’ 9-yard run got the Chiefs near the goal line, Schmeltzer went around end on fourth-and-one for a 2-yard touchdown run that, ultimately, put the game out of reach with 5:48 remaining.
Gallipolis turned the ball over on down at its own 22 and the Chiefs again got inside the 5-yard line, but a fourth-down fumble prevented them from playing add-on.
It really didn’t matter at that point, however, as the Chiefs stopped the Blue Devils’ last-gasp series, with Brock Emerson and Gabe Smith sacking Jarrell for a 10-yard loss and Smith getting a solo sack to push the Blue Devils closer to their own goal line.
Logan then stopped Gallipolis on fourth-and-5 from the GAHS 36 and Kost led the Chiefs into victory formation, kneeling twice to end the game.
“We came out at halftime knowing that if we could get a stop and a score, the game could go back to even and we could start all over,” said Bartholomew. “We did a great job doing that. I give a lot of credit to our seniors coming out and fighting in the second half. I want to give a big round of applause to those guys for fighting to the end of the game.
“That was a huge turn of events to get it back to a tie,” he added, “but Logan did a great job smashing that momentum and coming right back at us.”
Gallipolis led 7-0 when Jarrell broke a 42-yard scoring run on the Blue Devils’ opening series, but the Chiefs answered with what wound up being a nine-play, 74-yard scoring drive, helped immensely by a 15-yard roughing the kicker penalty when the Blue Devils forced a punt near midfield.
The Chiefs made the Devils pay. Schmeltzer went for 14 yards on the very next play and, three plays later, Kost scored from 12 yards out to draw the Purple & White even.
On the next series, after McBride had thrown Jarrell for a 13-yard loss, the Blue Devils went for a fake punt on fourth-and-18, lining their linemen up near the sideline and snapping the ball quickly. But Jarrell’s pass to Logan Allison resulted in only six yards, and Logan took over with great field position at the GAHS 25.
“It was something we worked on all week,” Bartholomew revealed, “and (given) the circumstances, that’s a call that I’ll probably regret the rest of my life. I apologized to those guys at the half. If we don’t fake punt it there, who knows, it’s probably a 14-14 game and we don’t give them an extra possession.”
But they did, and Logan capitalized.
After the Chiefs were whistled for a delay of game penalty, pushing the ball back to the 30, Schmeltzer took a handoff up the middle, cut down the left sideline and went the 30-yard distance for the lead touchdown.
Then, after forcing a GAHS punt, Logan made it 21-7 with a nine-play, 54 yard drive, capped by a third-and-goal, 23-yard bomb from Kost to sophomore Isiah Smith, who made a terrific catch in the back left corner of the end zone.
Kost, who started the season as a wildcat quarterback, has proven to be quite effective as he’s settled in, especially in SEOAL play. He’s thrown four TD passes in his last two league games.
Schmeltzer rushed for 132 yards for the Chiefs, who now look to wrap up an undisputed title next week against Warren, which had its championship hopes dashed in a surprising 26-12 loss to visiting Portsmouth on Friday.
Craig Dunn is the sports editor of the Logan Daily News in Logan, Ohio.