LOGAN, Ohio — Gallipolis coach Mike Eddy said it was a war. Logan coach Kelly Wolfe said it was a classic.
Whatever it was, the Blue Devils can say they clinched no worse than a share of the 2012 Southeastern Ohio Athletic League football championship.
The two head coaches left the Logan Chieftain Stadium turf Friday night looking ahead (Eddy) and wondering what might have been (Wolfe) after the visiting Blue Devils outlasted the Chiefs 23-14 on a rainy Senior Night on the Logan High School campus.
Coupled with an unexpected development about 45 miles south of Logan Chieftain Stadium — Chillicothe’s shocking 14-13 victory at Jackson, which broke the two-time defending champion Ironmen’s 14-game SEOAL winning streak — the Blue Devils (7-2 overall, 4-0 SEOAL) clinched no worse than a tie for the conference crown with their regular-season finale against visiting Jackson (5-4, 3-1) looming next Friday.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs (2-7, 2-2), who began the season 0-5, came oh-so-close to throwing the conference championship race into a three-way tie going into the final week.
“It was a classic Logan-Gallipolis game,” said Wolfe. “It was physical. I thought our kids came out a little flat in the first half, but we came out in the second half with an attitude, and it was the battle that you expected it to be.”
Although the Chiefs were flat in the first half, the Blue Devils — who entered Friday night averaging 37 points a game — were still being held to just nine points on three Dylan Saunders field goals.
Saunders booted field goals of 36, 19 and 32 yards, but GAHS only led 9-7 because Logan’s Nick Kost scooped up a Gallipolis fumble and returned it 30 yards to paydirt midway through the second stanza.
Then, after Kost’s 52-yard punt rolled out of bounds at the Gallia Academy 4-yard line with just under two minutes to play in the half, it appeared the visitors would be content to run out the clock.
Instead, 29 seconds later, they were in the end zone.
Running back Luke Pullins came through with a 22-yard run to get the ball out of the shadow of the GA goal line, then senior running back Nick Clagg took the ball around right end, cut back through a huge hole, and outran the Logan defense for a 74-yard touchdown — the longest rushing TD in the five-year history of Logan Chieftain Stadium — and, after Saunders booted the PAT, a 16-7 lead with 1:24 left in the half.
“That was a heartbreaker, having them pinned as deep as we did,” Wolfe admitted.
“When Dylan (a sophomore) decided to come out and be a football player for the first time, it was a lot of pressure,” Gallipolis coach Mike Eddy said. “He’s a confident young man and he works hard every day. Tonight proved why he’s one of the best kickers in school history. He was a tremendous help to us.”
Saunders set a school record by converting his 40th extra-point kick of the season late in the game. He even got a chance at a fourth FG but his 42-yarder on the final play of the first half fell short.
Although Gallipolis didn’t score again until late in the game, the Blue Devils held on to win by rushing for 316 yards, overcoming four lost fumbles and several crucial penalties.
“Tonight, what an incredible war,” said Eddy, whose Blue Devils are assured of no worse than a title share for the first time since 2004. “We did everything we could to lose with the turnovers and the penalties. It was very uncharacteristic of our football team. We haven’t played like this since Licking Heights (a 21-7 week-three loss to the still-undefeated Hornets) — and that was with penalties, turnovers and two big plays.
“I saw a flashback tonight,” he continued. “I was definitely a little bit nervous, but I never lost belief in the kids. That’s what it’s all about. They kept fighting.”
Both teams did, which you would expect in a rivalry that goes back to several years before the SEOAL was formed in 1925… and both teams also ended up playing short-handed in the offensive backfield.
Logan’s leading rusher, Cory McCarty, tried to play but was limited to 15 yards on six carries dealing with a high ankle sprain suffered two weeks ago that has yet to heal; Ty Warnimont, the Blue Devils’ top runner — who entered the game averaging 16.5 yards per carry — exceeded his average (51 yards on three carries) but injured an ankle in the second period and did not return.
“We lost a great player for the rest of the year in Ty Warnimont, and that’s going to really hamper us,” Eddy said. “We’re going to have to go back to the drawing board. Somebody’s got to step in and fill those shoes. That’s a heck of a pair of shoes to fill, but we have good football players and they train hard for that opportunity.
“We had guys hurting but they just kept playing,” he added. “They didn’t come to the sidelines saying ‘coach, take me out,’ they sucked it up and get it done. That’s the kind of kids we have and that I hope we’re developing here — strong, tough kids who will fight you tooth and nail to the very end, win or lose.”
The Blue Devils had 409 yards of total offense and got big contributions from Clagg, quarterback Wade Jarrell, and Pullins, who combined for 229 rushing yards in Warnimont’s absence.
Meanwhile, the Gallipolis defense limited the Chiefs to just 20 total yards and one first down (that via penalty) in the first half. Logan fared much better in the second half, but still only finished with 186 total yards.
“They were running a 6-2 (defense) and we weren’t able to get to any linebackers at all,” Wolfe said. In the second half, “we thought we could start attacking the perimeter and we wanted to get (Nick) Maniskas the ball and get him out on the corners a little. Cory couldn’t get it done tonight with the ankle, and so we needed to be a little diverse and make some plays. Nick made two or three huge plays for us.”
One of those huge plays came with 4:54 left in the third quarter and Gallipolis still leading 16-7.
Maniskas took what amounted to a long handoff — quarterback Jack Music threw him the ball in the right flat 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage — and the junior broke it the distance (47 yards) for six points. Dominick Stevens then added his second PAT kick of the game to draw the Chiefs within 16-14.
After forcing Gallipolis to punt, the Chiefs drove to the Blue Devils’ 19-yard line but fell short on fourth-and-6. They got the again ball back a few minutes later when Justin Moore recovered a Gallipolis fumble (his second fumble recovery of the game) at the Logan 34-yard line, but were forced the kick the ball away with 5:13 left in the game after throwing three-straight incomplete passes.
“We were trying to mix it up a little bit and get some bigger plays to happen in a hurry,” Wolfe explained. “We felt like we had some opportunities to get some passes on the perimeter… if we would have caught one of those three passes, I wouldn’t have (called for) three passes.
“The first two were open, and if we would have caught one of those two we would have went back to the running game,” he continued. “We were trying to catch them off guard. We were trying to take advantage of (defensive back Cody Russell), who was limping back there, but we couldn’t.”
Gallipolis then drove 57 yards on eight plays, with Jarrell scoring an insurance TD with 1:54 to play. Saunders’ PAT — his 11th kicking point of the game — gave the Blue Devils a nine-point lead, meaning it was a two-possession game.
The Chiefs only got one more possession. They turned the ball over on downs at the GAHS 47.
“We were excited being (down) just 16-7” at halftime,” Wolfe said. “We felt we were in great shape against a team like that that’s been putting up the points they’ve been putting up. They couldn’t get things going offensively like they’re used to. We were in a pretty good position.
“The defense played lights out,” he added. “They held them to three field goals and a touchdown in the first half; we just didn’t get it done offensively. We came out and cut (the deficit) to two, then it was a battle from there on. We drove the ball but couldn’t finish inside the red zone.”
Eddy knew where the challenge was this week; stopping Logan’s running game. Former LHS quarterback and GAHS defensive coordinator Alex Penrod developed the plan of attack.
“We really challenged our defense this week,” Eddy revealed. “We knew the last time those two kids (McCarty and Isaac Schmeltzer) were in the backfield together they went for over 400 (rushing) yards, so that was our focus. We were not going to lose because they were running the football down our throats.
“We play a lot of good football teams who (try to) do that, and we believe we’re built to stop that,” he added. “It all comes down to our defensive line. We thought going into the year we had one of the best D-lines in the league, and tonight they had to step up and prove it. They showed up to play tonight, and that made the difference.”
Gallia Academy now finds itself in position to win the league championship outright by beating Jackson next week — and reach the state Division III playoffs as well — but Eddy made it clear the Blue Devils are not content with just a portion of the title.
“We’ve talked about this all year,” Eddy stated. “A lot of people didn’t agree with it, but (in week three) we went for it (the win) against Ironton (a 14-13 loss at Ironton; in the final moments, the Blue Devils went a 2-point conversion and a potential victory instead of kicking a game-tying PAT). That’s the mentality of these kids; we don’t tie anybody. We want to beat you. That’s what this league title is about; we’re not just sharing this league title.
“It doesn’t end tonight,” he continued. “We’re still fighting for a league title. We don’t share anything, and that’s the mentality of these kids. They’ve worked too hard to split it.”
After starting the season 0-5, it sure didn’t seem like the Chiefs would be playing for a tie for the league lead a month later.
“I have never been any lower than I was a month ago” after a 50-0 loss to Nelsonville-York, Wolfe said. “To be where we were at, you would never have thought this was a 2-6 football team. We had great, energetic practices this week, and to be able to have a game of this magnitude, to be playing in week nine with everything riding on this game, it shows we have” bounced back.
“We can still finish tied for second” he added, by winning next week at Warren and if Jackson loses to Gallipolis. “We (defeat Gallipolis) and we’re tied for first place. It was a classic back-and-forth Logan-Gallipolis game between two pretty balanced teams. Everything was going our way (to tie for the league lead), but we didn’t uphold our end of the deal.”
Craig Dunn is the sports editor of the Logan Daily News in Logan, Ohio.