With just two weeks left in the regular season, the Portsmouth Warriors are set for one of their toughest tests of the year.
The undefeated Butler County Broncos will visit Spartan Stadium this weekend in the Warriors’ home finale on Saturday. The Broncos have already locked up home field advantage for the Blue Collar Football League Western Conference playoffs and have outscored league opponents by 161 total points in seven games this season.
After dropping their first game of the season on July 11 to the West Virginia Lightning, the Warriors bounced back with a 42-0 road win over the Carter County Wildcats last Saturday. Though the Warrior offense seems to be back on track, they’ll face one of the league’s best defenses in their upcoming game with the Broncos.
Employing an aggressive 4-3 defense, Butler County is allowing less than 10 points per game this season in league games. The Broncos have pitched two shutouts this season, a 62-0 win over the West Virginia Bulldogs and a 25-0 over the Cincinnati Bulldogs.
The Broncos’ lightning-fast blitzing scheme and talented linebacking corps — led by Gannon Patterson — has stopped every running back its faced this season. That’s why Warrior coach Jamie Rice believes Saturday’s game will be won in the trenches.
“The offensive line, this game is going to come down to those guys,” he said.
Rice hopes that his talented front five can exploit the Broncos’ aggressive scheme by opening up holes into the secondary, but he knows it won’t be easy.
“All we’ve worked on is communication. If you don’t communicate, this defense will make you look really bad,” he said.
On the other side of the ball, the Warriors will need to slow down a stout Butler County rushing game — led by tail back Jordan Albrecht — that has torched BCFL defenses all season and helped the Broncos average over 32 points per game.
Though their run game is the basis of their offense, Butler County has a deep threat in speedy wide receiver Paul Jones. Warrior defensive coordinator Brian Wroten will have his backs on high alert to prevent the big play.
Though the Broncos are undefeated on the season, they’ve played a decidedly easier schedule playing in the much weaker BCFL Western Conference. Outside of the Broncos, just three teams in the entire conference — the Gem City G Men, the Cincinnati Hitmen and the Cincinnati Dukes — have a winning record. Earlier this season, the Broncos squeaked by the G Men with an 18-12 victory, their closest game of the season.
Butler County’s opponents this season have a combined record of 18-26, while the Warriors’ opponents are 29-21 this season.
“I think we have an advantage. We’ve played in tight games, we’ve played against good competition,” Rice said. “But, you can only play who’s on your schedule, and they’ve beat everyone on their schedule. We haven’t.”
The Warriors still control their own destiny to home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, but they’ll need every win they can get to stay ahead of the second-place West Virginia Lightning. The Lightning will go on the road this week to play the 1-6 West Virginia Tar Heels.
Still atop the BCFL Eastern Conference standings, the Warriors have every reason to be confident. However, Warrior running back Jontez Jones hopes his team doesn’t fall into a trap.
“We need to stop being overconfident. When we get too confident, we let off the gas a little bit…from my perspective, that’s why we lost the Lightning game,” Jones said.
However, Rice feels that his team is right where they need to be.
“That loss kind of leveled us out a bit. If we don’t do the things we’re supposed to do, we can be beat and we don’t like the feeling of it,” he said.
Kickoff for Saturday’s game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Spartan Municipal Stadium.
Reach Alex Hider at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931 or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter