The following question was asked by the Herald-Leader as part of a preseason survey sent to high school football coaches:
“What would constitute, in your mind, a successful season in 2017?”
To that, Logan County Coach Todd Adler responded: “A .500 season or better and go to the playoffs.”
For many programs, that goal might appear to lack ambition. For Logan County — a team that had lost 42 straight games from Oct. 19, 2012, until ending the streak with a win over Todd County Central on Oct. 28, 2016 — finishing 5-5 and getting blown out in the first round probably would have felt like winning a state title.
Instead, Logan County might get to play for a state championship.
The Cougars are 11-0 — undefeated this late in the season for the first time, ever — and will host Hopkinsville in the second round of the playoffs on Friday night. Last Friday’s 54-18 victory over Warren Central was the first time Logan County hosted a playoff game on its own field (the 1988 and 1989 teams that won district championships played their home playoff games at Russellville across town).
So much for going .500.
Adler took the reins of the program last season, when the losing streak was at 33 games. But he’d been around the program before that, leading its middle school feeder in the years prior. This year’s Logan County seniors were eighth-graders on his first middle school team.
“Me and the coaching staff, we’ve bonded with our guys over spring ball and winter workouts and got to know ’em, and our buy-in team-wide — coaches, players, parents, student body, administration — everybody’s bought in to what we’re trying to do,” Adler said. “When you get a group of people — 1 to 3 to 200 — to me, if you get ’em to buy into the same thing, the sky’s the limit for a group like that. They have some confidence that they’ve never had before and it’s showing on Friday nights.”
Some of the wins have been the types of blowouts Logan County used to receive from others, but several have come down to the wire. After starting 3-0, the Cougars got a solid test from rival Russellville in a 28-21 decision. Against Hopkinsville, they never led until the final horn sounded as Tyler Ezell crossed the goal line on a quarterback keeper. Logan County the next week had what would have been a game-tying extra point blocked with two minutes left at Madisonville. A successful onside kick recovery led to a game-winning field goal by Lucas Arevalo with 10 seconds remaining.
“That was really the game that our kids never doubted for a minute that they were gonna win that game,” Adler said. “They knew they were gonna find a way to win.”
The Cougars use a run-first approach on offense — Gary Hardy leads the squad with nearly 1,200 yards on 190 carries — and like to spread the field. Ezell has thrown for 18 touchdowns this season to four different receivers. Six different players have scored at least three TDs for the Cougars, with Ezell edging Hardy 10-9 for the team lead.
Defensively, Logan County is “just a very hungry football team that fights for four quarters and never gives up.”
“There’s nothing special about it,” Adler said. “It’s just a bunch of kids that like playing football and they’re doing their job really well.”
With unprecedented success comes unprecedented media coverage. Adler said it’s been fun to see TV cameras and newspaper scribes on the sidelines because the kids deserve the credit. They’ve not gotten big-headed about it, though, which could have been a concern given the unexpected turnaround.
If Logan County wins Friday it will again be face-to-face with unknown ground; the Cougars have never advanced past the second round of the playoffs. The regional would pit them in a rematch with Madisonville or Franklin-Simpson, last year’s Class 4A state runner-up.
For now, Logan County will live in the moment, but don’t expect it to be a flash in the pan; it will return the bulk of its contributors, who are mostly juniors and sophomores, in 2018. The only thing changing next year will be Adler’s preseason survey response.
“Our community every year, no matter if it was a 33-game losing streak, a 12-game losing streak, whatever we were on at that time, every year the first game of the season everybody would come out and see what the football team was about,” Adler said. “The crowd would be slammed and they would just dwindle down each week as we continued to lose. This year, it’s picking up. Every week we’re adding new people to it. The support that we’ve got from the school and the student section, the ROTC groups and companies and everybody around the community, and even opposing teams, they’ve all supported us in such a great way. It’s just been a really neat story and I’m glad to be a part of it.”