By Brad Morris
Terry Holbert strives for Logan Elm to have tunnel vision, but even the eight-year coach of the Braves had to admit to knowing what has been lurking on the horizon.
“A lot of people call it coach speak, but we really work with our guys with focusing on things one week at a time, to see how much we can improve as a football team on a weekly basis and to prepare for the opponent that’s up next,” he said. “Our guys have done a good job at that, but I’ve known, and I know that they’ve probably known that this game has been on the horizon if we took care of our business.”
The Braves took care of business and now that much anticipated game is finally here.
Logan Elm (6-1, 4-0) is preparing for its biggest football game since 2015 on Friday when it travels to four-time defending Mid-State League Buckeye Division champion Bloom-Carroll (6-1, 4-0).
The Braves have already clinched their first winning season since 2015, when they also started that year at 6-1, but they are aiming for much more.
If they could end Bloom-Carroll’s 19-game league winning streak on Friday, the win would put the Braves in sole possession of first with two league games remaining. Logan Elm has not won a league championship since 2011.
Bloom-Carroll and Logan Elm each started the season with a loss, but both teams have been dominant since then. Logan Elm has outscored its last six opponents 188-45, while Bloom-Carroll has run over its competition by a 238-45 margin.
Much has been written over the last six weeks about the Braves’ running game led by senior Blayton Reid (168 carries for 1,110 yards and 14 touchdowns), the emergence of sophomore quarterback Aaron Walters (75-121 passing for 1,075 yards and nine touchdowns) and their athletic perimeter players such as seniors Braylen Baker (20 receptions for 383 yards and five touchdowns; 20 tackles, two interceptions), Tanner Holbert (10 tackles, two interceptions) and Drew Tomlinson (23 tackles, one interception) and juniors Carson Summers (17 tackles, two interceptions) and Landon Thompson (28 carries for 216 yards and two touchdowns; 16 receptions for 171 yards).
But perhaps the biggest question the Braves had entering the season, was how would they stack up with their play inside the box?
“That’s been the difference for us this season, because everything we do on offense and defense flows from how our guys execute in the box,” Holbert praised. “When you have guys like RJ Weber and Gavin Griffey that are either three or four-year starters on the line, it’s like having coaches on the field. Unfortunately, we’re down a couple of starting linemen and have had to either play inexperienced sophomores or upperclassmen there, but RJ and Gavin have helped those guys and they are developing. We have the ability to adjust on the fly and adapt.
“Our scouting report every week starts with winning the box. When we flip it over to defense, Gavin on the defensive line and RJ in the middle are big, again. We’ve developed a little more depth up front than what we’ve had the past few years and that’s a good thing because it has been tested in the past couple of weeks.”
Bloom-Carroll is led offensively by a trio of running backs. Junior Dylan Armentrout leads the run game with 99 carries for 1,009 yards and nine touchdowns, but the Bulldogs can also utilize bruising backs like senior Chase Plantz (30 carries for 130 yards and eight touchdowns).
“Both teams are similar in that we both run a variety of formations and personnel on offense,” Holbert observed. “Armentrout is a shifty, explosive back and then they can also use a couple of power backs to give you a different look running behind a very nice offensive line.
“We have to be ready for all three backs and be very sound in reading our keys.”
Sophomore Ethan Thanthanavong has been solid in his first season at quarterback, completing 61 of 89 passes for 682 yards and four touchdowns.
“He’s done a nice job at quarterback and throws a nice football,” Holbert praised. “We have to be careful and also really respect Bloom-Carroll’s passing game, because they have some nice athletes on the perimeter.”
First-year coach Jeremy McKinney crafted a defense over the last five seasons for the Bulldogs that was highly successful, especially during their back-to-back trips to the state Final Four. Needless to say, the Bulldogs are still very formidable taking teams out of what they want to do offensively.
The Bulldogs limited Fairfield Union to just 77 yards of total offense last week and Liberty Union to only 106 yards in Week 6.
“Bloom-Carroll is obviously very comfortable in its scheme and they can give you multiple looks and fronts, from three-to-four-man from drive-to-drive and even play-to-play, that keeps you on your toes,” Holbert said. “They will also vary their looks in the secondary and bring some pressure to try and disrupt your timing offensively.
“It’s going to be very important to know our assignments, to execute them and to play physically.”
Holbert is excited for the opportunity that awaits the Braves on Friday and knows that they need to put together a clean game.
“This is a great opportunity for our guys that they have earned with their hard work and executing the game plans over the last six weeks that our coaching staff has put into place,” he said. “This is why you play the game, to get to play in a tremendous atmosphere on Friday night against a very good football team.
“Ultimately, it’s going to come down to us playing a clean game, being very physical and executing at a high level.”
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