It may not be the longest feud in southern Ohio high school football, but it may be one of the most passionate ones, as the annual Wheelersburg and Portsmouth football game nears its 2016 opening kickoff.
The Pirates and Trojans have had numerous classic games when they meet each other in athletic contests, but none draws as much passion and hope than when the two teams meet on the gridiron.
While Trojan fans have been shouting their battle cry, “Beat the ‘Burg”, the Pirate supporters have continued their cry of, “‘Burg’s the Word”.
While the two communities in Scioto County choose sides for Friday evening’s contest to be played at historic Ed Miller Stadium in Wheelersburg, Portsmouth football coach Aaron Duncan has been preparing his team for their biggest test of the still-young 2016 football season.
“It’s a rivalry that goes back to the 1970s,” Duncan said. “It was kind of sporadic, hit and miss in the 70s and 80s and then since about the mid 1990s, we’ve played just about every year.”
The series between the two teams was nearly even, but in recent contests, Wheelersburg has dominated the win/loss record over the Trojans.
In the last 10 meetings between the two teams, dating back to 2006, the Pirates are 9-1 when they face Portsmouth. The lone Portsmouth win in the last 10 games between the two rivals came in 2007, when the Trojans defeated the Pirates 27-20.
To start the season, Portsmouth broke a four-game losing streak against the Valley Indians, and Duncan believes his team can end another winning drought, the one against the Pirates.
“We’re 2-0 and Wheelersburg is 2-0 and I know it has generated a lot of excitement in both communities,” Duncan said. “I know our school spirit is up and I know the community’s spirit is up and I’m sure Wheelersburg’s is too.”
For the first time since 2010, the Trojans enter week 3 of the football season with an unblemished 2-0 record defeating Valley in week 1 and Portsmouth West in week 2.
“Us having a good start has added to the rivalry,” Duncan said.
Despite the good start, Duncan said he and his staff, along with his players understand the mountain that stands before them in the Wheelersburg Pirates.
“Wheelersburg’s football program is probably the best in southeastern Ohio and we’re still trying to build our program and we know Wheelersburg is always a good measuring stick to see how you’re doing,” Duncan said. “Our kids are excited and I know Wheelersburg’s kids are excited too. With both of us being undefeated, it will definitely add to the matchup and add to the atmosphere on Friday night.”
Duncan believes his team’s 2-0 start to the 2016 season is vital to the success of their season overall.
“We’ve been 3-7 or worse every year since 2007, with the exception of one year,” Duncan said.
The last time Portsmouth began a season 2-0, in 2010, they finished 7-3, however, since that season, the Trojans haven’t won more than three games each season.
“Obviously the old (saying) winning breeds winning and losing kind of breeds losing mentality, so starting out 2-0 has really been a positive for our kids,” Duncan said. “Our kids are starting to believe that what they are doing is paying off and they’re seeing the results…If we can continue to get that buy-in from the kids and the confidence boost that they have and the school spirit is up, all of that makes a difference.
“When you start winning, then you start believing you can win, and that’s what we’ve got to get into for this program to continue to move forward.”
When the Trojans arrive at Ed Miller Stadium in Wheelersburg, they will enter the complex fully aware of its hostile environment, according to Duncan.
“It should be a lot of excitement in the air and I’m sure there will be a lot of noise going on,” Duncan said. “We do a lot of signals, we hand signal things and we practice with that and practice against crowd noise so I don’t think it will be that big of an adjustment other than our kids realizing this will be a big stage against a top opponent in the region and we have a chance to stand in there and stand toe-to-toe with them and see how we fare against them.”
For a Trojan victory, Duncan said Portsmouth must limit or fully prevent the big and explosive play the Pirates have executed on other opponents. In addition to preventing the big play, Portsmouth will need to limit Wheelersburg’s time of possession and force the Pirates to run as little offensive plays as possible.
“I think the biggest key for us is winning the battle of the line of scrimmage,” Duncan said. “If we can win the battle of the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, then I think we have a chance. If you win that battle then you can run the ball and eat some clock…The line of scrimmage usually determines the winner of most games and it will definitely be a factor in this one.”
As the Trojans have practiced this week, Duncan commented on what he has seen from his team.
“We’ve had an excellent week of practice,” Duncan said. “Our kids have been dialed in and focused. We’ve watched film and we’ve gone over our scouting reports with our kids.”
The Trojans will have a lot to prepare for when they meet the Pirates according to Duncan, but he believes his team has the ability to leave Ed Miller Stadium victorious Friday evening.
Wheelersburg and Portsmouth will meet Friday evening, September 9, 2016 at Ed Miller Stadium in Wheelersburg. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Phone calls to Wheelersburg football coach Rob Woodward were not returned to The Daily Times by press time.
Reach Michael Hamilton at 740-353-3101, ext. 1931, or on Twitter @MikeHamilton82.