By Paul Adkins
MAN – It’s always exciting to kick off another season of high school football.
It’s extra exciting when it’s Logan against Man.
The two county rivals are scheduled to meet on Friday night at Man in the traditional season opener. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Man’s George A. Queen Memorial Stadium.
Class AAA Logan, which beat Man 33-0 in last year’s opener, is coming off a 7-3 season in which the Wildcats just missed making it to the post-season by a whisker.
The Single-A Hillbillies were 2-8 last year and are hoping to shake off a string of three straight losing grid campaigns with a much-improved team.
It’s all shaping up to be a good season opener.
Man largely has dominated the series with Logan over the years, particularly from 1969-98 under former legendary coach Tootie Carter, who led the Billies to three Class AA state championship games in 1977, 1980 and 1984.
Logan, though, has had the upperhand against Man since 1999, going 11-3 against the Billies, including three straight wins.
Man last defeated Logan in 2009 when the Billies thumped the Cats 34-7 en route to the Class A state championship game and the Super Six at Wheeling Island Stadium.
Man coach Harvey Arms enters his 12th season at the helm and has been the Billies’ head coach since 2002, leading Man to four playoff appearances. Logan is led by 10th-year head coach Gary Mullins. He has also led Logan to four post-season appearances in his tenure as the Wildcats’ mentor.
Both Logan and Man had some success in the preseason and hope it carries over to Friday night.
The Hillbillies scrimmaged Class AAA George Washington on Aug. 17 and then went to Midland Trail last Saturday.
At Midland Trail, Man was outscored two touchdowns to one in a two-quarter scrimmage against Pocahontas County, then came back to defeat the host Midland Trail team 20-0 in another scrimmage. Sophomore quarterback John Thomas Keffer fired a 50-yard touchdown pass to Cayce Mullins for one score. Noah Maynard had a 12-yard TD run for Man and feature back Braden Griffin also had a touchdown run.
Coach Arms said his team has improved but knows beating Triple-A Logan is always a tough task.
“We thought that we had considerable improvement from our first scrimmage,” Arms said. “That’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking to get better every day. We played much more aggressively both offensively and defensively. We were enthusiastic and that makes us feel good about the season. We thought that we played pretty well.”
Coach Mullins said his team played well in a pair of preseason games last week at Ravenswood against the host Ravenswood Red Devils and Herbert Hoover.
“We had about as good a scrimmage as you could ask for,” Mullins said. “It was comparable to a real game. We ran somewhere between 48 and 55 plays. We scored 58 points. We played two really good teams. Josh Rein caught four touchdowns. Brett Musick caught a 70-yarder to start the game and Worm Street had two rushing touchdowns. Tyler Vernatter also had a rushing touchdown. Matt Cox also had a 65-yard touchdown catch. We also recovered four fumbles on defense and had an interception. If we can play like we did in the scrimmage we’re going to be OK but we just have to understand that it doesn’t mean anything when it comes to Friday night.”
Arms said opening with Logan is always difficult.
“The first game is Logan and we know that it’s going to be tough but we’re ready to play and we’re looking forward to it,” Arms said. “We’re enthusiastic. We just have to go out there on the field and get it done.”
The Billies had a young team last year and the negative turnover margin often spelled doom. Man had five turnovers in last year’s defeat to the Wildcats. That can’t happen again if the Billies want to beat Logan.
“We have to get to the point where we are not turning the ball over like we did last year,” Arms said. “That was our big problem last year in that we turned the ball over so much. We have to be real conscience about holding onto the ball and playing smart and not having too many penalties.”
Mullins said the Billies are improved from last season.
“They’re a great football team. They pretty much have everyone back from last year. They looked good in their scrimmages and they play hard all the time,” Mullins said. “They have a different offense that they are running which is a bit different than what they have done in the past. We’ve got new things to get ready for and to prepare for. Their quarterback will be as good as any that we will see the entire year. We will have to bring our A game.”
Man must be able to contain Logan’s offensive weapons. Logan is led by its backfield tandem of Worm Street and Tyler Vernatter and a top-threat wide receiver in Josh Rein, who caught a 70-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ryan Miller in the Aug. 17 preseason game against Tug Valley. Miller is expected to make his first varsity start for the Cats on Friday night.
“We have to contain their athletes. They have the Rein kid and Worm. They have speed and quickness and we have to contain that,” Arms said. “We can’t let them beat us with the big play. That’s what we saw in their scrimmages. They threw several long touchdown passes. We have to be consistent on defense.”
One of the keys for Logan is cutting down our cutting out completely the turnovers.
“That’s the biggest thing for us,” Mullins said. “They like to run the football and that will limit your possessions right from the get-go, so we can’t turn it over and give them more opportunities. Hopefully, we can cause some turnovers.”
On offense, Man will look to establish the run and open up the pass with the sophomore Keffer under center.
“That’s the game that we play. We like to establish the run and throw the ball a little bit,” Arms said. “We also have to hold onto the ball and not give it up.”
Arms said it’s always exciting to open at home. The Logan-Man game regularly draws the biggest crowd of the year in Logan County with upwards of 3,000 to 4,000 usually on hand.
“It’s always better to play at home,” Arms said.
Due to the closure of Route 10 because of construction and rock slides, fans are urged to leave early to the game. One detour being used to Man is Kelly Mountain Road. You can also get there from Logan by taking Route 44 south to U.S. 52 South to Gilbert. From there, take Route 80 north to Man.
Mullins said it’s always special to begin the season with the Billies on the schedule.
“I like it,” Mullins said. “You can throw the classifications out. It’s a huge football game for both of us. Nobody wants to start out 0-1 and that puts you behind the 8-ball from the word go. For Man, it’s like winning two games the way the point system is set up. If they beat us it’s like beating two Single-A schools for them. It’s a huge game for both schools and it’s always a huge football game. We’re looking forward to it and I can’t believe it’s already here. We’re looking forward to getting out there and playing.”
Arms said Man is healthy heading into the game.
“We’re in good shape,” he said. “At this point we’re ready to go.”
Mullins said Logan will be without the services of a few players who are injured.
“Daniel Faine, a wide receiver, is banged up and won’t play,” Mullins said. “Tyler Browning, a freshman, was also hurt on the first day of practice. And Skyler (Miller) is still out sick. Other than those three guys everyone else is ready to go.”
Logan-Man Football Series
since 2000 (Logan leads 10-3):
2012: Logan 33, Man 0
2011: Logan 30, Man 7
2010: Logan 55, Man 18
2009: Man 34, Logan 7
2008: Logan 14, Man 12
2007: Logan 33, Man 14
2006: Man 18, Logan 13
2005: Logan 12, Man 10
2004: Man 22, Man 18
2003: Logan 18, Man 0
2002: Logan 27, Man 6
2001: Logan 19, Man 0
2000: Logan 49, Man 9