Finally, football is back.
High school football returns to Scioto County this evening, as the Valley Indians travel to town to take on the Portsmouth Trojans.
Portsmouth has built a lot of hype around their program after finishing 6-4 in 2016. It was the first winning season for the Trojans since 2009, and came in head coach Aaron Duncan’s first season.
For Valley, the Indians are looking to rebound from a 1-9 season a year ago. It was Valley’s first losing record since 2007, and has motivated the team and coaching staff to work hard and improve in the offseason.
Valley and Portsmouth might play in different conferences, but the two schools know each other well. The Indians and Trojans have opened the season against one another every year since 2012. Prior to last season, Valley was 4-0 in those season opening matchups, but Portsmouth was able to knock the Indians off last season 32-12.
A big catalyst in last season’s Portsmouth victory was freshman running back Talyn Parker. Parker had a huge start to the season, rushing for 194 yards and scoring two touchdowns.
Duncan said Parker has grown in size and expects to be even better this season. “Talyn rushed for 1300 yards as a freshman last year and had an excellent offseason in the weight room,” Duncan said. “He weighs 182 lbs. right now and is stronger and faster than he was a season ago.”
Parker is indeed talented, but Duncan says his success wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for Portsmouth’s players up front. “None of those yards are possible without the excellent offensive line he has in front of him opening up holes,” Duncan said.
Valley head coach Darren Crabtree knows talent when he sees it, and was very complimentary of Portsmouth’s offensive prowess. “They’re talented,” Crabtree said. “Obviously Parker is one of the best running backs in the area, couple that with a big strong offensive line … they’ve got a couple weapons on the offensive side of the ball.”
One of those aforementioned offensive weapons is a new quarterback for the Trojans, Isaac Kelly. Kelly transferred to Portsmouth from Lewis County, Kentucky, and Duncan has been raving about what he can do at the quarterback position.
“Isaac’s leadership abilities and competitive spirit make the other players around him better,” Duncan said. “He was voted as a team captain by his peers and is highly motivated to be the best player that he can possibly be every day.”
Portsmouth spent a lot of time fine tuning the defense in the offseason, as Duncan added Josh Matiz and Bo Mayo as defensive coaches from the Minford staff. The Trojans defense figures to be much improved from last season.
As for Valley, they have a lot of leadership across the board as well. On offense, running back Gabe Streeter figures to have a big season, returning from an injury he sustained last year. Streeter had 141 rushing yards and two touchdowns for the Indians in last season’s contest.
“It’s huge lift for us because Gabe is a kid who makes a lot of plays for us,” Crabtree said. “Having him back and healthy is a great thing for us.”
Aside from Streeter’s homerun ability, Valley also returns quarterback Andrew Shope to run the show for the Indians. Shope played in Valley’s final seven games last season, and has grown in the offense for the Indians.
“He’s gotten a lot stronger,” Crabtree said about Shope. “Physically he’s grown some … he’s a much tougher player than he was at this point last year.”
Valley has several new weapons of their own on offense, with wide receivers Tanner Cunningham and Tucker Williams joining the team this season.
The addition of Cunningham and Williams will certainly help the aerial attack for the Indians. Valley totaled just 22 passing yards against Portsmouth last season.
Crabtree has noticed his defense improving as compared to last season. “We’re a lot faster defensively than we were last year,” Crabtree said. “Our team speed is much better.”
The Indians return three of their four starting defensive linemen from last season, which Crabtree sees as a strong point. “We do have some kids up there that have been battle tested against good linemen, and they’re going to have to be ready to play,” Crabtree said.
The quarterback of the Valley defense, J.T. Ward, figures to play a big role in slowing down the explosive Trojans offense from his middle linebacker position.
Although Valley struggled the last time these teams faced off, Duncan knows that the Indians will come ready to play. “I think the Indians will be a year older, stronger, and more experienced,” Duncan said. “Couple that with Coach Crabtree and his staff and the fine job that they do, and I believe we will see a very tough opponent come to town on Thursday night.”
Crabtree feels that his team has grown up a lot since last season. “The whole maturity level of the entire team coming in to the game is so much different than what it was last year,” Crabtree said.
Last season’s game was shifted early on when Portsmouth was able to score three long touchdowns in the first 13 minutes of play. Crabtree said that can’t happen if his team hopes to win this year.
“We can’t afford that kind of start, or that kind of big play production from their skill kids if we want to have a chance to win,” Crabtree said.
Both coaches cited the turnover battle as crucial to their team’s success. “I think the biggest key for tomorrow’s game will be our ability to limit our own mistakes,” Duncan said about turnovers. “We have to be better with ball security and not turn the ball over.”
Coach Crabtree was straightforward when talking about that, simply saying “we have to win the turnover battle.”
All the talk and speculation ends on the field tomorrow night at Portsmouth as the Indians take on the Trojans at 7 p.m.
Reach Ben Spicer at (502)264-7318 or on Twitter @BSpicerPDT