Starting off the season with a win is always hard.
Continuing that momentum into the weeks that follow, however, can be even harder, especially as the competition heats up.
On Friday evening, the Portsmouth Trojans and the West Senators will both have to be on their game as both football programs will square off in what is expected to be another thrilling affair at The Rock.
And with another stark contrast in styles, and personnel, expected — at least from an offensive standpoint — Aaron Duncan expects nothing less in a rivalry affair that has had more than its fair share of exciting contests.
“We’ve got to limit their ability to sustain long drives on us,” Duncan said. “We’ve got to get them in some three-and-outs and match them up front defensively as they attempt to run or pass from under center in the I-formation. If they have difficulty establishing their ball control offense, we know that they’ll go to more of a spread, where they’ll throw the ball a little more and can get (Dylan) Bradford running around. So we’ve got to keep the ball out of their hands. Hopefully, we’re able to do what they do and establish long drives.”
For the Senators, a three-headed monster returns to lead the charge for West offensively, as Bradford, along with Garrett Hurd and Josh Berry, provide a strong core for West head coach Ben Johnson to work around. Bradford completed 12 of his 15 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns, with both of the scores, and 114 of those 183 yards, going to Berry. As for Hurd, the diminutive running back rushed for 87 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries while also adding a huge 16-yard reception on 4th-and-12 to keep what was ultimately a seven-minute West drive alive — all huge qualities in West’s 20-18 victory over Fairland.
“Offensively, Josh Berry is a guy that they’ll get the ball too, and (Garrett) Hurd runs the ball really hard,” Duncan said. “(Dylan) Bradford can make things happen with his legs. We’ve got to keep him in the pocket because he can really make things happen with his legs. He’s elusive with his legs, and when he breaks contain, those receivers can work to scramble and get open.”
However, the trio are far from the only productive players on the staff. In fact, Jakeb Guilkey, Gabe Skaggs, Cole Staggs, Blaine Weaver, Drew Cassidy, and Isaiah Norman each had at least six tackles on the evening to round out a West unit that attacks the football and shows a great mixture of strength and closing speed.
“I know that (Ben) Johnson and the entire West program will be ready to go,” Duncan said. “He and his staff do a fine job of coaching in that program. They’re usually one of the more physical opponents on our schedule each year. Last year, those kids were physical, and a lot of those kids are back. They’re all a year older and are stronger and more experienced from the year prior. We know that West will be physical on defense and will fly to the football.”
As for Portsmouth, the Trojans didn’t have too bad of an opening week, to say the least. In fact, the PHS defense, which has been a work in progress in recent years, put together a standout performance last Thursday by holding Valley’s solid offensive attack to less than 50 yards of total offense in pitching a shutout under first-year defensive coordinator Josh Matiz. Valley’s lone score of the contest came off of a 71-yard touchdown return by Gabe Streeter.
“Defensively, I couldn’t have been more pleased with the effort,” Duncan said. “We held Valley to less than 50 yards of total offense. That speaks volumes of a defensive unit when it can do that. It was a good way to start the season for our kids. To be on the winning side of the ledger against a much-improved Valley team is a good sign for us.”
It didn’t hurt that first-year Portsmouth hand Isaac Kelly had a standout performance of his own on Friday evening. In his first contest after transferring over from Lewis County (Ky.), the promising 6-3, 200-pound senior collected 243 yards of total offense and scored four touchdowns to show the poise that’s more akin to a four-year starter in the system.
“Issac brings a lot to the table for us,” Duncan said. “He’s a student of the game. He watches film and watches what the opponent’s tendencies are so that he knows what he’s going see as far as blitzes and coverages are concerned. He’s come in here, embraced the offense, and has learned the offense to where he knows it like the back of his hand.”
After returning to football and entrenching himself as the backup to Talyn Parker, Reese Johnson also impressed last Thursday. When Parker went down with an upper body injury in the first quarter, Johnson proceeded to step in and take control as the backup running back collected over 100 yards and five yards per carry while allowing Portsmouth to maintain its continuity from an offensive standpoint. Johnson has been receiving the first-team reps throughout the week and will start on Friday night.
“We plugged Reese right in there, he carried the ball 19 or 20 times, and picked up over 100 yards,” Duncan said. “Reese doesn’t give you that home run hitter in the backfield, but he’ll get his shoulders square and he’ll give you a five, 10, 12 yard gain. He’s a strong kid, a good athlete, smart, brings a good frame on him at 190 pounds, and he knows the offense and was able to step right in so that we didn’t have to change what our gameplan was. We needed him to execute our gameplan, and he stepped right in and did just that. This week, he’s received all of the reps in practice, and he’s gotten better with the reps that he’s received. The more reps that he gets, the better that he is going to get.”
With an exciting atmosphere and two gritty opponents set to put on a show, there’s really nothing to be worried about from a football player standpoint. The only worry, in fact, may be the remnants that are expected to hit the Tri-State Area on Friday and Saturday. While there is expected to be a 100 percent chance of rain and thunderstorms at the time of kickoff, Duncan isn’t worried about the outcome that the weather will provide.
“We’ll just have to see what Mother Nature has in store for us,” Duncan said. “We plan on lining up Friday night at 7 p.m., and hopefully, Mother Nature will cooperate to where we get the game in.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7