PDT Sports Writer
If there was ever a time to describe a team as the walking wounded, the time would be now and the team would be the Portsmouth Trojans.
With five of his starters on the offensive side of the ball already out because of injuries, coach Curt Clifford is switching players around to positions they might not have dreamed being at when fall camp began.
“We move one guy, we put one guy in the ball game, there’s three or four guys changing positions,” Clifford said. “The bodies are gone.”
This is the scenerio for Portsmouth’s home opener Friday night as archrival Ironton comes in for the 118th meeting between the two schools. The Fighting Tigers, with the 30-14 win in Ironton a year ago, now hold a 55-54-8 all-time series edge as well as a four-game winning streak over the Trojans.
Clifford said he thinks the team coming into the Colisuem led by first-year head coach Mark Vass is the program’s best since the 1999 squad that finished as state runner-up.
“I don’t see any weaknesses,” Clifford said. “Big, powerful backs, smart quarterback, faster-than-fast halfback, nice-sized tight end, huge offensive line, huge defensive line, very physical. I see no weakness in this football team.”
For Vass, who spoke with the Ironton Tribune this week, being aware of the trap game after a 27-17 win over Ashland (Ky.) Paul Blazer is very important.
“This is their first home game and I expect them to be sky high for us,” Vass said. “…We can’t have another game like we did against (Gallia Academy).”
The conversation started with Fighting Tigers senior halfback Patrick Lewis, who is being described as one of the fastest players to come out of the Ironton program in half a century.
“I can’t think of anybody faster than him,” Clifford said. “(Maybe) Jermon Jackson, I don’t know if Jermon was as fast as him, but it’d be real close.”
Not only is Clifford impressed with his speed on offense, he feels Lewis is the best punt returner he’s witnessed in 36 years. Lewis will be joined in the backfield by fullback Tanner Schweickart and halfback Trevor White as they line up behind senior quarterback Tanner Dutey, the son of Portsmouth Superintendent Scott Dutey.
“He runs the show,” Clifford said. “I think he’s real cool and those are the dangerous quarterbacks. Those are the guys that don’t get rattled, they don’t get flustered.”
Defensively, the Fighting Tigers return 10 of 11 starters to a team that finished 7-5 a year ago and were knocked out in the second round of the playoffs. Dutey does not start but comes in to play on second and third downs on that side of the ball.
On the topic of playoffs, Ironton has a 10.2 computer point average entering Week 4 action, leading second place St. Clairsville by 1.7 points in Division IV, Region 15. To put that into perspective, only four schools out of the 719 total in the entire state that offer football have a better average. In Division I, Region 3, Dublin Coffman’s 11.15 and Lewis Center Olentangy’s 10.475 would put the Figthing Tigers third in that region. The same place would be in Region 4 as Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller (11.5) and Cincinnati Sycamore (10.675) have higher averages.
“They would be in the playoffs in every region in every division,” Clifford said. “…Not only are they good, they’re beating good people.”
No matter what, Clifford and his troops will not back down. Even if it means playing less than full strength.
“We’ll play Ironton no matter what, it doesn’t make any difference to us,” Clifford said.
Portsmouth will get Johnie Charles back in the backfield for Friday’s contest. He was held out of the second half of last week’s 41-14 loss at Minford for precautionary measures.
“Johnie would’ve ran onto the field if I had let him,” Clifford said. “…Health is more important than a game, at least to us it is.”
Clifford was not as optimistic with the chances of seeing Darion Robinson. He left last week with a lower body injury.
The hope for the Trojans to build confidence and give them a shot for the upset will be ball possession.
“Last week we thought our offensive gameplan in the first half was spot on, we were doing what we wanted to do,” Clifford said. “But when our guys went down, it was almost like somebody shot the family dog right in front of us and we did not respond.”
Clifford wants to see how his team will respond to the latest set of challenges when the ball is teed up at 7:30 p.m.
Cody Leist can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 242, or email@example.com.