SCIOTO COUNTY — It’s a new football season, of course, and a new meeting between the Portsmouth Trojans and the Valley Indians.
And, in this season’s annual opener under the Thursday night lights, it’s two new starting quarterbacks —and the donning of a new era in Indian football especially.
A pair of seniors, Tyler Duncan for Portsmouth and George Arnett of Valley, get the under-center nods on Thursday night —as this decade-long opener returns to The Reservation in Lucasville for the first time in four years.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Valley High School, as the Trojans and Indians —sans the coronavirus-canceled contest of two years ago —began opening against each other in 2012.
The Indians, as part of five consecutive state playoff appearances from 2011 thru 2015, captured the first four meetings —before the Trojans have roared back to take the most recent five, including 35-3 last season in Trojan Coliseum.
Both clubs, given the expansion of the Ohio High School Athletic Association state playoffs to 16 teams per region, qualified a season ago —as ninth-seeded Portsmouth defeated eighth-seeded Zane Trace 38-22 for its first playoff win since 2002.
The Trojans tallied an 8-4 final record last season, and gave top-seeded and host Ironton everything it wanted in the Division V Region 19 quarterfinals.
That ended up being Drew Roe’s final game as Portsmouth’s starting quarterback —as the epic dual running and throwing threat shared all-Southeast District Division V Offensive Player of the Year honors with graduated Piketon QB Levi Gullion.
The Indians ended up at 4-7, as the six-foot tall and 170-pound runner Arnett actually started the final two games at QB —including in Valley’s Division VI Region 23 playoff loss at West Jefferson.
That meant two-year starter Carter Nickel switched to wide receiver, who actually enjoyed a 115-yard receiving night with one touchdown against the Roughriders — as first-year Valley head coach Nolan Crabtree commented that the move carried over into this season’s preseason.
Crabtree takes over the Indians from Darren Crabtree, who retired after last season —and after 32 years and 240 career victories as the highly-successful head mentor.
Nolan Crabtree — the highly-successful Valley baseball coach — was a four-year member of the Valley varsity staff for Darren, and graduated from Valley in the year 2000.
In fact, he served as Darren’s offensive coordinator last fall, and oversaw the change under center from Nickel to Arnett.
He discussed the switch during the Indians’ Media Day.
Arnett, a starter since his freshman season as a tailback, is much more of run-oriented threat —whereas Nickel is thought of a passing quarterback.
“It just has to do with the style of offense we’re running, but we’re going to give this a shot,” said Crabtree.
Crabtree cautioned that “Carter (Nickel) is still going to take some snaps, as both are going to be integral parts of what we do.”
“We’re feeling things out, trying to figure out what’s best for us,” said the coach.
The quarterback picture for Portsmouth appears more clearer, as the pocket-passing style of Duncan takes over for Roe.
Duncan saw several snaps under center last season for the Trojans, particularly when fifth-year head coach Bruce Kalb rested Roe —or when Roe played through injuries against Ironton twice, sandwiched around the Zane Trace triumph.
Duncan is the son of Aaron Duncan, the Trojans’ offensive coordinator under Kalb.
“Drew’s ability to extend plays made him extremely effective. Tyler’s ability to get rid of the ball quick makes him effective in a different way. Here’s a young man whose dad has been our offensive coordinator and head coach at one point — he’s a coach’s kid. To say he understands the game of football, that’s an understatement,” said Kalb. “It’s something he’s lived his entire life. He sees things like we see things and that’s a huge advantage.”
Both teams’ numbers are slight increases over last year — as Portsmouth sports 50 and Valley at 34.
“The 34 is a small increase from last year, but at one point, I think we only had probably 21 or 22 healthy,” commented Crabtree. “Health is going to be the single-most determining factor for our success this year.”
The Trojans have nine seniors —including Duncan and returning receivers/skilled athletes in Reade Pendleton, Beau Hammond and Jayden Duncan.
Jayden Duncan began his high school career at Valley, as the Trojans should also benefit from Notre Dame transfer and senior Nolan Heiland.
“They (Indians) have a good, athletic senior class with some supporting roles from the junior and sophomore classes. They have a lot of experience. Not much different from our senior class, which had a lot of playing time as sophomores,” said Kalb.
Valley’s senior class is a dozen-men strong —including interchangeables Arnett and Nickel; Justin Moore, Levi Stewart, Lakota Davis and Levi Bush along the offensive line; and Colt Buckle at tailback and Hunter Edwards at wideout.
Stewart and Moore — the latter a Boston University commit — return as starting tackles, with Davis returning at center and Bush back at guard.
The Indians, up front on both sides, feature more experience than the Trojans — which may offset any potential Portsmouth advantage as far as overall depth.
“We’ve got experience, strength, size and a lot of ability up front. And a lot of these seniors are going to be playing both ways,” said Crabtree. “And they’ve all had really great offseasons.”
But now, it’s official offseason no more — as the Trojans and Indians, spearheaded by new starting signal-callers, kick off the new campaign starting on Thursday night.
“We’re always excited to kick off the season on a Thursday night against Valley, and be that first football game in Scioto County. And there’s not a better matchup than Portsmouth and Valley,” said Kalb. “It’s always been a good rivalry between the two schools. This year, it’s going to look a little different.”
Indeed it will —with a new Crabtree in charge on The Reservation.
Speaking of which, the last time these two slugged it out at Valley — the Trojans and Indians combined for three points shy of the century mark, as Portsmouth prevailed in a 57-40 high-scoring shootout.
A year later, the Trojans triumphed with a 32-27 home late victory.
“Starting off the year with Portsmouth is always a great feeling, opening up before everybody else. And these games have been really good ones the last few years. I don’t expect anything less this year,” said Crabtree. “We’ve got to be able to play four quarters. These hard-fought games, our conditioning and depth are going to key for us.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved