The Portsmouth Trojans are firmly entrenched in the race to claim the Ohio Valley Conference championship. However, with a cluster of teams tied for second in the conference, the Trojans have an opportunity to create separation and keep themselves in the conversation for the top spot.
Portsmouth (4-2, 2-1) travels to Proctorville Friday to face the Chesapeake Panthers. Both schools have one loss in the conference, trailing only Ironton who has an unblemished record in the OVC.
While Trojans head coach Aaron Duncan is solely focused on the Panthers, the ramifications of this matchup aren’t going unnoticed.
“We talk to our kids because our kids have goals,” Duncan said. “Their goals have been to have a winning season. Another goal is to win the OVC conference as well as to make postseason play. Those are goals that they set and would like to achieve. But we focus on taking one game at a time, and you can’t get to a winning season or you can’t get to the OVC conference championship unless you take care of the task at hand, which is Chesapeake.”
While Chesapeake returned a plethora of experience, the offensive and defensive lines are an area where the Trojans feel like they hold the advantage.
“They’ve have some nice looking lineman, so their cup board wasn’t bare so to speak,” Duncan said. “What they don’t have there is the experience. But even if they are inexperienced lineman, it’s week six, so that experience factor is out the door. I do think if we have an advantage on our side, it is we have an experienced group of there. The strong point of our football team is the interior line.”
Portsmouth will need to control the line of scrimmage as the Trojans attempt to bottle up the speed the Panthers posses.
“They virtually have all of their skilled position players back,” Duncan said.
“The skilled position players are experienced and they had a great season last year, and they’re athletic and fast. They have athletes all over the field.”
Duncan admitted his primary worry is with quarterback Casey McComas, who was injured last week against Ironton, but is expected to play.
“He can throw the ball good enough to cause concern but his legs are his primary asset,” Duncan said. “He makes them go and he’s a dangerous runner. We’ve got to limit him in the run game.”
Duncan’s other primary concern is Cecil Fletcher who has the ability to break a big play every time he touches the ball.
“He was injured and didn’t play against us last year,” Duncan said. “He’s a nightmare in the open field. They’ve really got speed at all their skilled positions.”
Duncan admitted his No. 1 priority is stopping Chesapeake’s rushing attack. Portsmouth struggled trying to stop the run last week as the Trojans allowed 390 yards on the ground in the 40-20 loss to Coal Grove.
“We’ve got to try to bottle up their running game,” Duncan said. “They want to run the football. That’s their MO, so we’ve got to try to limit the running game.”
The Trojans suffered their first conference lost last week after falling to the Hornets, but Duncan believes his team learned from their mistakes and is ready for the next challenge.
“Our kids were obviously disappointed this week,” Duncan said. “We watched film, and went back and made corrections … That was a point of emphasis in practice and in film session, trying to eliminate mistakes to give us a better chance. We’ll have to eliminate those to have a shot at Chesapeake. They are dangerous. They’re a good football team. They can put up points in a hurry.
“Our kids didn’t want to focus on what we could’ve done or what we should’ve done. But what we saw was Coal Grove capitalizing on our mistakes. We had some penalties and some turnovers, and I told our kids that we’re not good enough to win games against good opponents whenever we’re making mistakes.”
Aside from correcting their mistakes, Portsmouth spent extra time working on special teams as the Trojans expect a competitive game and are looking to garner an advantage in the third phase of the game.
“We had time to work on our special teams this week and in close ball games, special teams is always a huge factor,” Duncan said. “Aside from that, the keys every week are blocking and tackling. We don’t want to have to get into a speed game with these guys. We’ve got good athletes but Chesapeake is fast. We don’t want to try to make it an east/west ball game. We’ve got to establish our running game and we need to be more physical than they are in the trenches.”
The contest is scheduled for a 7 p.m. kickoff at Chesapeake High School.
DJ Pearsall who missed last week’s contest with an undisclosed injury is expected to play Friday night.
“Last week, we really missed DJ Pearsall,” Duncan said. “He’s our blocking fullback. He was an offensive guard last year. He got himself in really good shape this year and moved to fullback, but he still has that offensive guard mentality. He wasn’t able to play against Coal Grove and against a physical team like Coal Grove, he was missed. We missed his presence but he’ll be back this week.”