SEOAL Forecast: Week 7

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Four of the five Southeastern Ohio Athletic League teams have opened up conference play, and all signs are pointing towards a tight race down the stretch.

While Gallia Academy fell in week 6 to a third-ranked Belfry (Ky.) squad, 41-19, the Jackson Ironmen traveled to Warren to top the Warriors, 35-20, while the Logan Chieftains pummeled the Portsmouth Trojans, 54-27, at Chieftain Stadium.

Only two games separate Gallia Academy from Warren and Portsmouth, making the final four weeks of the 2013 season massively important to each squad. 

Put on your running shoes, SEOAL fans; we’re in for a wild race to the finish.

1. Gallia Academy Blue Devils (4-2, 0-0 SEOAL)

Despite getting blown out by Belfry (Ky.) and Athens, the defending SEOAL champs are still averaging over 42 points per contest. 2012 Gridiron Glory Player of the Year Wade Jarrell has made a compelling case for the 2013 award, having amassed 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns through the air and seven scores on the ground. Jarrell has spread out his passes to a plethora of receivers, but none more than Logan Allison, whose nine touchdown catches have put him on the 2013 Gridiron Glory Player of the Year watch list. First-year head coach Wade Bartholomew has taken over where former head boss Mike Eddy left off and has captured his squad’s full attention and commitment.

The Blue Devils travel to Portsmouth on Friday to open up conference play; they will host Warren and Logan before heading to Jackson in a week 10 battle. Though the Blue Devils have a tough four weeks ahead of them, the shirts they wear under their uniforms state, “11 Players, One Heartbeat, One Goal. 12-06-2013.” That’s the date of the state championship game.

2. Jackson Ironmen (3-3, 1-0 SEOAL)

A stinging 30-27 loss to Gallia Academy was all that separated the Jackson Ironmen from an SEOAL title last season. This season, head coach Andy Hall said that he wanted to fine-tune his offense and defense in order to clean up any mistakes that may have cost his squad games. While no team is perfect, the Ironmen have been playing with a newfound sense of confidence with sophomore quarterback Hunter Sexton as their signal caller. In their first two games, the Ironmen rolled over Wellston and Waverly by a combined score of 122-18. A few humbling losses followed against West Jefferson, Athens and Wheelersburg – all of whom are ranked among the top three teams in their regions – but the boys in red and white responded last week with a gritty win over Warren to right the ship.

Jackson will make the trip to Logan this week, followed by three home games against Portsmouth, McClain (Greenfield, Ohio) and Gallia Academy. The Ironmen will rely heavily on their bruising ground game and punishing defense to muscle their way to the top of the conference.

3. Logan Chieftains (3-3, 1-0 SEOAL)

With the entrance of head coach Billy Burke, the hard-working Chieftains have re-instilled the hope that Logan could return to the top of the SEOAL. Quarterback Nick Kost and running backs Isaac Schmeltzer and Bryce McBride have combined for 1,231 yards on 187 rushes and 12 touchdowns through six games. The Logan offense put on a show last Friday when the Chieftains hung a school record 562 rushing yards on Portsmouth. Special teams have also played a big part in Logan’s success with two kickoff return touchdowns of at least 85 yards.

The Chieftains look for conference win number two when Jackson comes to town on Friday. After a trip to Zanesville, Logan travels to Gallia Academy and returns to face Warren to finish the season. Since the SEOAL was formed in 1925, Logan has been crowned champion 25 times; number 26 is in their sights.

4. Warren Warriors (2-4, 0-1 SEOAL)

An aggressive offense, led by quarterback Austin Kilntworth, will be Warren’s make or break factor as they progress into conference play. The Warriors put up a combined 87 points on Parkersburg and Parkersburg South and 20 points on a stout Jackson defense, but their own defensive squad has given up an average of 37.1 points per game. After amassing a 4-6 overall record in 2012, the pressure is on for head coach Andy Schob’s squad to make some noise in a conference that remains winnable for any team.

Warren travels to East Liverpool, Ohio on Friday to duke it out with the 1-5 Potters. After a winnable matchup against East Liverpool, the Warriors travel to Gallia Academy, welcome Portsmouth and travel to Logan to wrap up 2012. A sense of urgency will be necessary for the Warriors to contend for the top spot in the conference.

5. Portsmouth Trojans (2-4, 0-1 SEOAL)

If the Trojans lose their final four games of the season, they still will have doubled their 2012 win total; there are few things more dangerous than a team with nothing left to lose. New head coach Jason Sparks leads an offense that has put up at least 27 points in three of their games, including 35 points against rival Portsmouth West. Johnnie Charles has shown the potential to carry his squad on his back when need be, but football is not a one-man sport. The Trojan defense has given up an average of 28.7 points this season, with their lowest points allowed being 20 in a win against Ironton.

The defense will have a tough test on their hands when the high-flying offense of Gallia Academy comes to town on Friday. After that, things don’t get too much easier, as the Trojans travel to Jackson and Warren before returning home to face former SEOAL member Chillicothe to finish the season. Desperation and efficient defensive play will be crucial going forward for Portsmouth, who sits only three spots out of the playoffs in Division V, Region 17.

Editor’s note: Chillicothe left the SEOAL for the South Central Ohio League this season. The Cavaliers have fared well in their new conference – Chillicothe is ranked No. 2 in Division III, Region 9 in the latest OHSAA Computer Rankings.