PORTSMOUTH — Valley senior Blake Howard only touched the ball 10 times on Thursday night, but he more than made the most of those touches.
The running back scored all five of the Indians’ touchdowns — four on the ground, one on a 90-yard kickoff return — as the reigning Region 21 champions won their first game of the 2015 season, beating Portsmouth 33-0.
“Not a bad night,” Valley coach Darren Crabtree said. “Tough to do better than what he did tonight.”
It didn’t take long for Valley (1-0) to take the lead. After stopping the Trojans with a sack on their initial drive, it took the Indians just four plays to travel 70 yards to get in the end zone. Howard picked up half of those on a 35-yard TD scamper up the gut, Bryce Romanello added the extra point, and the Indians held a 7-0 lead with 5:33 remaining in the first.
It was good field possession that gave Valley its second score of the night. A shanked punt by Portsmouth (0-1) gave the Indians the ball at the Trojan 20 yard line. Three plays later, Howard had his second touchdown of the night, this one from five yards out. Though Bryce Romanello missed the ensuing extra point, Valley had complete control of the game at 13-0.
“We set ourselves up in bad field position with that bad punt. Valley is too good of a team to put yourself behind the eight ball like that,” Portsmouth head coach Aaron Duncan said.
After the Valley defense forced another three-and-out, they turned to — who else? — Blake Howard. His third touchdown was set up by two clutch catches by senior Derek Burk — one on a deep, over-the-shoulder toss from quarterback Bryan Rolfe, the other on a tight out right deep in the red zone to give the Indians a critical first down at the one-yard line. From there, Howard did what he does best and gave the Indians a 20-0 lead.
Howard’s fourth score came after the Valley defense forced Portsmouth to go three-and-out yet again. Romanello and Burk both came up with big third-down catches on the drive, and Rolfe added a long run of his own to set up Howard’s six-yard touchdown run.
The Trojans special teams may have let them down in the first quarter, but a long kickoff return and a subsequent horse-collar penalty gave Portsmouth the ball deep in Valley territory with a chance to score before halftime.
However, Portsmouth couldn’t take advantage. Zach DeLotell’s field goal just before the horn was no good, and the Trojans went into the locker room trailing 27-0.
At halftime, the Indians had gained 141 rushing yards to Portsmouth’s 50. More than half of those Valley yards came from Howard.
Howard wouldn’t carry the ball in the second half, but he still wanted more. He took the second half kickoff on his own 10, found some space, and put on the after-burners. In the blink of an eye, he was in the end zone with a 90-yard kickoff return touchdown that gave the Indians a 33-0 lead.
A drive later, Howard was able to make an impact on the defensive side of the ball. With Portsmouth driving inside the Valley five, Howard jumped on a loose ball the preserve an Indian shutout.
The senior defensive back also recorded 7.5 tackles throughout the game.
“(Howard) did it all three ways tonight, through the air, kickoff return and running the football, and he had a good night defensively,” Crabtree said. “We excpect that from him, and he came out tonight and played pretty well.”
With all but 10 or so seconds of the second half being played under a running clock due to the 30-point “Mercy Rule”, Portsmouth had little time to mount a comeback. However, in their limited snaps, the Trojan offense seemed to come alive in the second half. Austin Hollins and Derray Richardson traded carries throughout the final 24 minutes, as the two combine for 80 of Portsmouth’s 111 rushing yards on the evening.
“We challenged them at halftime to not quit and keep playing hard,” Duncan said. “(Richardson and Hollins) were picking up yards after first contact, and Austin Mullins was clearing the way for them. The running game is something we can build off of.”
The schedule doesn’t get any easier next week for Portsmouth, as they face rival Portsmouth West at Spartan Stadium on Sept. 4.
As for Valley, they’ll hit the road to take on a solid Coal Grove squad that barely missed the playoffs in 2014. Though Crabtree couldn’t ask for a better performance from his team in their opener, he knows there’s still a lot of football left to be played.
“We have to keep pushing ourselves to get better,” he said. “We can’t worry who the opponent we’re playing, we have to make ourselves better. If we do that, we’re going to be fine.”
Valley — Howard, 35-yd rush (Romanello PAT) (5:35)
Valley — Howard, 5-yd rush (PAT missed) (2:08)
Valley — Howard, 1-yd rush (Romanello PAT) (10:46)
Valley — Howard, 6-yd rush (PAT blocked) (4:37)
Valley — Howard, 90-yd kickoff return (Romanello PAT) (11:46)
Passing — Valley: B. Rolfe, 8-11-117; Portsmouth:C. Lowery 4-8-21.
Rushing — Valley: B. Howard 7-74, B. Rolfe 4-56, S. Basham 7-44, D. Wolford 3-13, J. Ward 4-2; Portsmouth: D. Richardson 10-50, A. Hollins 11-30, A. Mullins 4-20, C. Lowery 12-11.
Receiving — Valley: B. Romanello 2-47, D. Burk 3-44, B. Howard 1-14, K. Williams 1-6. C. Breech 1-6; Portsmouth: A. Hollins 3-13, R. Williams 1-8.
Valley 1-0; Portsmouth 0-1.
Reach Alex Hider at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931 or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter