Tanks look to tame Broncos in BCFL title game

Over the course of the 2017 football season, the West Portsmouth Tanks have been through it all on the field.

The Tanks won their first five contests by a dominating margin of 289-12 in setting the tone as one of the premier semi-professional football programs in the country. Then, after losing Job Swords in its first victory over Butler County — a 37-6 tally — West Portsmouth regrouped by retooling its personnel and its philosophy on all fronts and took home three victories by 16 points or less without arguably their best overall player in the starting lineup.

The result, you ask?

Well, as the saying goes, ‘They’reeeeee baaaccckkkkk!’

Yes, the West Portsmouth Tanks are, indeed, back in the Blue Collar Football League Championship affair for the fourth time in five years. And for the third time this season, the Tanks will be facing the Butler County Broncos — an opponent that they’ve taken home 37-6 and 22-16 victories over.

Not surprisingly, Jamie Rice’s ballclub is looking quite forward to the opportunity to show to the league and the Tanks fans that West Portsmouth is, once again, the standard and the class of the BCFL.

“We’re just going to try to take care of the small things, and let the bigger things take care of themselves,” Rice said. “We’re just going into it with a mindset where we know that we will have to establish the line of scrimmage, both offensively and defensively, and maintain possession of the football. We’re just looking forward to it. Making it to the (BCFL Championship Game) is always one of our main goals at the beginning of the year, and now, after all of these games, we have a chance to do what we set out to do. Our guys are excited about it, and I believe that they’re ready to go.”

Leading the charge for the Tanks will be an excellent ground game that will be led by Antwan Williams, Jontez Jones, and McDermott native Luke Brown, who have each starred for West Portsmouth. Overall, Williams has a team-high 516 yards and eight touchdowns on 69 carries for an average of 7.5 yards per attempt, including a 109-yard performance on 14 carries in the Tanks’ first meeting against the Broncos. Jones, meanwhile, rushed for 102 yards on a dozen carries to lead the team to victory in the second meeting between the two programs.

“Those two (Antwan and Jontez) are really good football players,” Rice said. “Jontez has great football knowledge. He’s great. We played him at receiver a lot earlier this year, but as our receiving corps dwindled down, we used him more at running back, because he’s just phenomenal. Antwan can move and has really handled his repetitions at running back really well throughout the year.”

Brown, however, is certainly not one to slouch on either. The McDermott native was able to collect 72 yards on just four carries — including the game-winning touchdown — and a staggering 18 yards per pop. Brown has 235 yards rushing on 31 carries and holds the team-high in yards per carry with a 7.6 average.

“When a player tackles Luke, it’s hard to tell who gets the worst of it,” Rice said with a laugh. “It’s probably the defender. He’s one of the best football players that I’ve ever been around. He just knows the game. I could put Luke back at safety, and he would probably end up being an All-Star safety. He just knows the game. Between Antwan, Jontez, and Luke, we have three of the best backs in the league.”

From the beginning of the season to the end, however, the area that has improved the most, according to Rice, is the offensive line.

After Swords, who completed over 50 percent of his passes for 813 yards and 12 touchdowns, went down, Rice knew that the offensive line would have to step up — especially without a true quarterback on the roster. Since Swords’ injury, the change has, in fact, helped the offensive line, according to Rice. In fact, the Tanks’ head coach says that the O-line has been engaging and finishing blocks better than they were when the unit defeated the Wheelersburg Bucs, the Carter County Wildcats, the Portsmouth Stealth, and the Dayton Oilers by 41 points or more.

“The injury actually situated our problems on the offensive line,” Rice said. “We challenged those guys, and they’ve done a really good job responding to that challenge. We’ve just gotten so much better on the offensive line. We’re all going to struggle, eventually. That’s life. When we were beating everyone handily at the beginning of the year, I told these guys that the struggles are going to come. There’s going to be a time when we’re going to struggle, and when Job went down, that was the time. You just take a step back, and you get better.”

Defensively, Portsmouth’s Dion McKinley and West Portsmouth’s Justin Staggs lead a strong front seven that has given opposing teams fits throughout the season, as evidenced in the points allowed category — where the Tanks have allowed just 109 points in 11 games this season. Staggs leads the team in tackles with 64, while McKinley has used his 6-5 frame to collect 59.5 stops along with a team-high eight sacks on the year.

“Dion does not play soft,” Rice said. “He is a really good football player and puts a lot of pressure on people. They try to throw it over his hands, and Richard, Chris Hill, or Chance Freeman will come into play and pick it off. (Justin) Staggs is just a workhorse. He’s not a flashy guy, but he goes out there and controls the middle. He’s a good football player, for sure. He’s a great guy, too. Those two have played really well, and we’re lucky to have both of those guys.”

In the defensive secondary, Richard Elery leads a unit that is arguably the best in the BCFL, with four players holding at least three or more picks on the season. Elery holds seven to head the unit in that category and has returned five of his seven picks for touchdowns in 2017.

“Richard’s kind of a hybrid,” Rice said. “He has good free safety speed and he has good free safety range, but he’s also a really aggressive player that will come up and hit you. He’s playing really well. He’s really benefited from the players around him.”

However, Elery is far from the only star in the defensive backfield. Ironton standout Chance Freeman has six of his own, while Toryan Whiting has collected four INT’s. Chris Hill, who has made three interceptions on the season, has returned each of his picks to the house. All three players, along with Elery, have made at least 24 tackles on the year or more.

West Portsmouth’s contest against Butler County will start at 6 p.m. and will be held at The Complex in West Portsmouth.

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Dion McKinley hauls in the football against the West Virginia Lighting on Aug. 26. McKinley, a Portsmouth High School graduate and former multi-sport standout, leads the Tanks with eight sacks.
https://www.portsmouth-dailytimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2017/09/web1_2017_8_26_Tanks_vs_WVLightning-141.jpgDion McKinley hauls in the football against the West Virginia Lighting on Aug. 26. McKinley, a Portsmouth High School graduate and former multi-sport standout, leads the Tanks with eight sacks. Joey Shupert

McDermott native and former Northwest star Luke Brown attempts to make a sack in the Tanks’ contest against the West Virginia Lightning on Aug. 26.
https://www.portsmouth-dailytimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2017/09/web1_2017_8_26_Tanks_vs_WVLightning-192.jpgMcDermott native and former Northwest star Luke Brown attempts to make a sack in the Tanks’ contest against the West Virginia Lightning on Aug. 26. Joey Shupert

By Kevin Colley

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Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7