The game between the West Portsmouth Tanks and the Butler County Broncos on Saturday night was about more than football.
West Portsmouth partnered with Miss West Jade Ratliff to raise donations of school supplies and clothing for WestMart, a free marketplace for children in need who attend West Portsmouth schools.
Donations came in throughout the game, and piled up on tables at the entrance of The Complex. “The clothing drive was a huge success,” Ratliff said. “We collected 10 garbage bags of clothes and 70 school supply items.”
Ratliff, a senior at West Portsmouth, was happy to see the support. “Without the help of our community none of this would’ve been possible,” she said.
Tanks fans were able to support the community as well as their team, and were treated with the most competitive game of the season so far for West Portsmouth.
Entering the contest, the Tanks had won their games by an average of 43 points per game. Defensive coordinator Brian Wroten said he and his team “would much rather play in a blowout, that’s for sure.”
Thus, the Tanks were in unfamiliar territory early in the second quarter when Butler County’s Robert Givens scored on a 12 yard run and the Broncos got a two point conversion to take an 8-0 lead.
On offense, the Tanks had issues moving the ball throughout most of the game. West Portsmouth had several promising drives end unsuccessfully, and were in need of a spark offensively.
Late in the third quarter, the Tanks got that spark.
Head coach Jamie Rice decided to make an adjustment and switch to the Wing T offense. It worked well, as running back Jontez Jones scored on a 32 yard run in the first play out of the formation. West then tied the score after running back Luke Brown plunged his way into the endzone for a two point conversion.
“I like that Wing T,” Brown said. “It’s when all those big boys get in there.”
Rice made the switch after noticing several of Butler County’s players were playing both offense and defense. He felt that the offense could wear them down. “If a team is running the ball on you and you can’t stop it, that’s demoralizing,” Rice said. “If you’re the one doing it, it’s fantastic. It gives you a lot of momentum, a lot of confidence.”
Butler County responded shortly after the Tanks touchdown with another score of their own, when Broncos quarterback Steve Cunningham found receiver Dominick Williams for an 18 yard score. Butler County added another two point conversion on a Cunningham run to take a 16-8 advantage.
On the next drive, West kept pounding away at the Broncos out of the Wing T. What looked like a sure touchdown drive ended up stalling out, as the Tanks were stopped on 4th and goal from the four yard line when Jones came up short.
With 6:37 remaining in the game, the Broncos had the ball and an opportunity to run the clock out. Butler County burned off several minutes of the clock, but were forced to punt with 2:31 left in the game.
It was a difficult situation for the Tanks, as they had utilized the Wing T throughout most of the second half. But now, with time running out and 64 yards to go for a touchdown, they were forced to put the ball in the air.
Or so it seemed.
After two quick incomplete passes from Snook Martin, the Tanks were faced with a third down and ten yards to go. Martin dropped back to pass, but when no receivers came open, he tucked the ball in and ran for the first down.
Martin did the same thing on the next play to gain another first down. When he tried to run on the next play, Butler County was there to stop him, but Martin found Brown sneaking out of the backfield and hit him for a big gain. A facemask penalty by the Broncos then gave the Tanks a first and goal from the seven yard line.
From that point, it was time to go back to the Wing T. Jones made the most of it, and punched it in for a seven yard touchdown. The Tanks got their points, but still needed a two point conversion to tie the game.
West Portsmouth went with the Wing T formation once again, but it wasn’t the usual suspects out of the backfield this team. Martin instead kept it himself on a misdirection, and accelerated to the right corner of the end zone to tie the game at 16 with 1:31 left to play.
“His football IQ and his football instincts are the best I’ve seen,” Rice said about Martin. “I know whenever it comes down to crunch time, he’s probably going to do the right thing.”
Neither team was able to score before the end of regulation, so the Tanks were playing in their first overtime game of the season.
West Portsmouth won the toss and elected to receive. With a touchdown on the opening drive, they would win the game.
The Tanks were faced with a third down and five yards to go, and decided to go with the T-formation. Brown took a counter and rumbled 63 yards, but came up just short of scoring.
“When I broke that last run, that’s all I could think about was being in high school again,” Brown, a graduate of Northwest, said. “I ain’t ran that far in a long time.”
On the very next play, Martin pushed his way in for the game winning touchdown on a quarterback sneak. The Tanks won the game in overtime, 22-16.
“We suffered through some adversity,” Rice said. “Normally, you lose that game most of the time.”
With the win, the Tanks improved to 10-1 on the season. West Portsmouth will play the West Virginia Lightning at home on August 26th. The Lightning were the Tanks only loss of the season, beating West Portsmouth 33-18 on July 22nd.