One thing is for sure when you play the Portsmouth West Senators: You’re going to feel it the next day.
West has embraced that tough mentality that has made so many Senators squads before them successful, and are using that ruggedness to dominant their opposition.
That theme will hope to continue Friday night when West (10-1) goes to war with the Johnstown-Monroe Johnnies (9-2) at Zane Trace in Chillicothe.
The Senators might be listed as the home team on the scoreboard, but West is looking at this game as an away game.
“It is a neutral site, but you kind of treat it like it’s an away game,” Senators head coach Ben Johnson said. “You’ve got to travel, you’ve got to get on the bus, and you’re in unfamiliar territory.”
“Luckily, we actually scrimmaged at Zane Trace earlier this season so we have been to this venue. I think that’s good for our guys to have experienced the field before.”
Although the game is over an hour away, Johnson expects to see plenty of West fans in the stands to cheer on the Senators.
“We will be on the home side,” Johnson said. “Hopefully our crowd will travel with us, they always do. We know they’ll be rowdy and cheering us on.”
West experienced their first playoff win last week since beating Nelsonville-York 18-12 in 2011. The Senators defeated Martins Ferry 10-6 to advance to the second round.
As for the Johnnies, they survived in their fourth straight playoff appearance by defeating Oak Hill 35-0. Johnstown has won eight straight contests after starting the season 1-2. The Johnnies have scored at least 33 points in every game during their winning streak.
Once again for West, they’re faced with an opponent who resembles them in more ways than one.
Johnstown primarily operates from an I-formation, which the Senators have shown throughout the season as well. The Johnnies like to run the football, and have the brigade to do so.
“Their two biggest threats are their tailback Bryce Barasch and quarterback Caden Calhoun,” Johnson said. “They’re about 90 percent run as far as their tendencies, and even in games where they’re behind they stick with it. They don’t go away from it, that’s their bread and butter.”
Barasch and Calhoun have had a ton of success this season behind an offensive line that utilizes a lot of unbalanced looks. Thus, the awareness on defense for West will be of the utmost importance.
“They run an unbalanced line all the time,” Johnson said. “One thing we worked on really hard this week was making sure that we’re lined up correctly when they overload one side or the other to make sure we recognize that.”
Fortunately for the Senators, they seemed well equipped to handle the Johnstown attack based on the way they approach things defensively.
“We already play an eight man front, so that helps us when we play running teams,” Johnson said. “It’s really just going to come down to execution.”
Execution was a facet of the West offense that was lacking at times in their game last week. The Senators seemed to move the ball offensively with no issues, but had some trouble once they got inside opponent’s territory of coming away with points.
For Johnson, that has been a focus in practice all week long.
“Each week when we get further into this deal, we’re going to be playing better and better opponents,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to take advantage of all the opportunities that we get.”
“We’ve emphasized it in practice and we’ve worked on it. It’s just going to come down to execution.”
Running back Garrett Hurd and receiver Cody Staggs were big for West a week ago, but Johnson thinks that quarterback Dylan Bradford could be the x-factor for the offense this week.
“I think he’s probably going to have to make a few plays for us,” Johnson said about Bradford. “The further you go along, it’s going to be really hard to be one dimensional, but he has made plays all year including last week.”
Johnson expects Bradford to have a big game, and hopes the Senators can keep the ball moving on offense.
The Johnnies have shut out three opponents this season, and held five teams under 10 points on the year. That Johnstown defense won’t be the only foe facing West, as the weather could also play a factor.
Temperatures are expected to be the coldest of the season, predicted to be hovering right around the mid-30s for kickoff.
“I think the team that handles it the best will be successful,” Johnson said. “We’ve had some cold practices this week, it’s warmed up the last couple days but we’ve been outside and it’s not like we’ve been shying away from it.”
“We’ve tried to get out in the elements as much as we can, but I don’t think it’s been as cold as it’s going to be [Friday]. So, we’re going to have to be ready for that. We’ve informed our guys to be prepared for it as far as their attire.”
The Senators have been on fire all year, and are looking to keep that hot streak going in the cold weather against the Johnnies.
Kickoff at Zane Trace High School is set for 7:30 pm.
Reach Benjamin Spicer at (502)264-7318 on Twitter @BSpicerPDT or at Facebook.com/ReporterBenSpicer