Graphic courtesy of Bub Tackett/Man Quarterback Club
Bill Lusk | WVOW Sports
LOGAN For the third time in seven years, Logan and Man will open its football season on a Thursday night at Willis-Nisbet Stadium.
The annual Lions Bowl, one of 10 games to kick off the high school football season across the state of West Virginia, is set to kickoff at 7:30 p.m.
The Wildcats and Hillbillies will meet for the 85th time in a series dating back to the 1923 season. Logan leads the all-time series, 53-29-1, and will be looking for its second consecutive victory over Man. The Wildcats defeated the Hillbillies 21-14 last season at Man’s George A. Queen Memorial Stadium.
Thursday’s contest will be the fourth consecutive in the series not played on a Friday at Willis-Nisbet Stadium.
In 2016, Logan scored on the game’s first play and defeated Man 48-13. Two years later, Man returned the opening kickoff but fell to Logan 20-14. Four years ago, during the shortened 2020 COVID season, the Hillbillies and Wildcats got together on a Wednesday evening with Man winning 44-6.
Logan coach Gary Mullins, entering his 15th season at the helm of the Wildcats program, and Man coach Harvey Arms, who enters his 21st season as Hillbillies mentor, are eager to get the season started and expect a competitive physical game.
Mullins said his Wildcats must come ready to play if they are to start the season with a win.
“Man is the same as they always are. Big and strong and they play extremely hard every play,” Mullins said. “We must match their physicality, and if we do, we will be fine.”
Arms said the Wildcats can spread the field giving their opponents a lot of headaches and that his team needs to focus on playing their responsibilities on defense.
“They are pretty much the same team they have been the last few years,” Arms said. “They like to throw that football; they have got a guy that can throw it and two or three that can get down field and catch it.”
Logan is coming off a 6-4 season that saw the Wildcats claim the Logan County Championship for the first time in eight years with wins over Chapmanville and Man.
“I thought last season went pretty well,” Mullins said. “We felt like we left a couple of games on the table, but overall to turn it around that fast says a lot about our team.”
The goals for the 2022 season remain the same for the Wildcats.
“Our goals have been the same since I started here,” Mullins said. “Be the county champion, have a winning season, make the playoffs and win playoff games.”
Logan is 0-6 all-time in playoff games but Mullins would like to change that.
“Hopefully, this is the year we get the playoff win,” Mullins said.
Logan narrowly missed the postseason after finishing 17th in the final Class AA ratings.
Three teams, Bluefield, Shady Spring and Fairmont Senior, finished 14th, 15th and 16th respectively knocking the Wildcats from the playoffs following a series of off-the-field events.
Bluefield became playoff eligible when they forfeited a game with Woodrow Wilson, which was originally cancelled due to COVID protocols earlier in the season.
Shady Spring lost to Westside in week six, however, the Tigers were awarded a forfeit when it was determined that Westside had an individual who was ineligible.
Fairmont Senior was scheduled to play Class AAA Wheeling Park earlier in the year, but the Polar Bears had to cancel the game due to COVID protocols. Wheeling Park chose not to accept the forfeit and the game was ruled a no contest.
Logan started the year 3-0 but dropped its next two games to Liberty (Raleigh) and Winfield. The Wildcats rebounded to win three of its next four games, however the Wildcats were eliminated from postseason contention when the fell to Herbert Hoover in the final week of the season.
Despite the off-the-field results that went against Logan, Mullins said his Wildcats had chances to qualify for the postseason but failed to take advantage of those opportunities.
“Some of the off-the-field situations were unfortunate but we had plenty of opportunities to ensure we got ourselves into the playoffs,” Mullins said. “Hopefully, we learned lessons about the importance of every game.”
Man was 4-6 last season playing a predominantly Class AA schedule despite being Class A.
Following an opening season loss to Logan, Man won three of its next four games before losing three of its final four games to close the year.
“We had some tough go’s last year, we had some good games, and we had some where we didn’t play well enough on defense especially against Point (Pleasant) and Independence where we didn’t stop them from running the ball,” Arms said. “That hurt us bad and hopefully this year we are working hard at it. At this point it seems like our guys are a little better against the run, but we will find out Thursday.”
Man expects to be challenged week in and week out. The Hillbillies face a schedule that includes seven Class AA schools and just three Class A schools.
Three of Man’s opponents this season qualified for the playoffs last season highlighted by Independence, who was runner-up in Class AA.
“It is going to be a tough season for us, and it always is,” Arms said. “We are in this situation where we play so many teams that are higher class than us.”
“It has been that way for years and we have been playing them for years,” Arms said. “We just got to buckle up and go after them. I think our kids understand the situation and I think we will go and play hard.”