LUCASVILLE — This time last year, all-Ohioan Dariyonne Bryant was catching the football for Portsmouth — and donning the number-3 jersey, not Devon Lattimore.
Noah Livingston wasn’t making teens numbers in Trojan tackles, Tyler Duncan was the dynamic Drew Roe’s backup, and Nolan Heiland was playing in fact for Notre Dame.
On Thursday night, at Valley High School, this new quartet combined for the Trojans’ top performances against the host Indians — as the Trojans erased a pair of early touchdown deficits, en route to capturing a 42-28 season-opening victory over Valley.
As the Trojans and Indians have met in the Thursday night opener every season for the past decade, sans the coronavirus-canceled contest of two years ago, Portsmouth has now won the past six meetings —following the first four by the Indians.
Three years ago, in the Trojans’ 32-27 triumph inside Trojan Coliseum, that was Roe’s proverbial coming out party — while Portsmouth linebacker James Thurman became an area household name in last season’s 35-3 PHS victory.
Fifth-year PHS coach Bruce Kalb, each season, consistently emphasizes the next group of talented Trojans taking ownership of the program —and four more members made their largest impacts to date.
“Hats off to this group,” said Kalb. “This is a testament to the kids that lead this program each year. We’ve had great senior classes that have been fantastic stewards of this program. We feel that with the skilled kids and the playmakers we have, we can’t get in our own way. Sometimes, the only team that might be able to stop us is ourselves.”
Actually, Duncan and Heiland are the seniors of this particular foursome, while the linebacker Livingston and wide receiver/defensive back Lattimore are juniors.
Livingston led the defensive charge against the Indians’ offense, amassing a game-high 18 tackles including 13 solo —part of 71 team tackles overall.
“He’s (Livingston) a junior, last year he had to step in as a sophomore at times. We saw what he was capable of. This is a young man that has a nose for the ball — he plays smart football,” said Kalb. “He always seems to be around the football when he needs to be and he was tonight.”
Heiland helped him out in the secondary by making a pair of interceptions —one of George Arnett inside the final minute of the opening half to end a Valley drive at the Portsmouth 30 and which he returned 25 yards to midfield, and the other on the second-t0-last Indian snap in which he picked off a Carter Nickel halfback pass at the Trojans’ 25.
But Heiland had his handprints in other facets as well, including a pair of second-half receptions for 64 yards —as both set up third-quarter go-ahead touchdowns, including his 36-yard haul-in from Duncan to the Indian one-yard line.
On the next play, a Beau Hammond dive with 92 seconds left in the period, the Trojans took the lead for good at 35-28.
Heiland’s highlight reel actually opened on an ensuing after-Valley-TD kickoff, and following the Indians getting on the scoreboard first.
Heiland returned that kickoff 50 yards to the Indian 35, and officially kick-started the Duncan-to-Lattimore show.
Duncan’s first pass to Lattimore connected for 26 yards on the first play following, then the next play resulted in a 14-yard TD hookup between the two.
That marked the first of Duncan’s four touchdown tosses, three of which went to Lattimore —including the second-half pair that covered 98 (71 and 27) combined yards, as all three ended three-play drives that totaled two minutes and five seconds of actual game time.
Lattimore made only one of his six receptions of less than 14 yards — his final catch which went for no gain.
“We saw some of that what Devon could do last year at Zane Trace (Division V Region 19 playoff game in 2021). What a night he had both sides of the ball,” raved Kalb. “Returning kicks, catching passes and playing corner for us.”
Duncan completed career-bests of 18-of-30 passes for 286 yards, six of them that Lattimore caught for 159 and the TD hat trick.
Indeed, that wasn’t the “2” of Roe finding the “3” of Bryant, but the “12” of Duncan dialing up for — and delivering to — the “3” of Lattimore.
“The big question coming into tonight was how do we replace Drew Roe? Well, you don’t replace a Drew Roe. But you know what? We found a Tyler Duncan,” said Kalb. “Even some of the plays he was able to extend with his legs. I was really happy with his performance and the way he commands the offense. Really excited to see what this season holds for him.”
Lattimore made two impactful kick returns as well, including 31 on a punt prior to his 45 for a kickoff — that set up the Duncan to Heiland 36-yard pass and ultimately the Trojans’ final go-ahead score.
Nolan Crabtree, making his debut as Valley’s head coach, commented on the Trojans’ athleticism and speed —as the Indians actually outgained Portsmouth by 68 yards (402-334), but beset themselves by making special teams mistakes and committing five turnovers.
“We felt that if we were going to win, we had to win the turnover battle and limit their big plays. Neither one of those things happened,” he said. “Throw in the special teams that turned things around and that’s where we’re at. We had a lot of success offensively, did a lot of good things there. But we didn’t capitalize enough and we sure didn’t limit their big plays. They had speed and we knew that could be an issue, and after a while they got loose.”
Indeed, consider it a breakout party for four more emerging and talented Trojans —the firm of Livingston, Lattimore, Duncan and Heiland.
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