Tanks fall in heartbreaker to Broncos, 8-3

WEST PORTSMOUTH — Over the course of the 2017 Blue Collar Football League season, the West Portsmouth Tanks had a banner year that would rival any semi-pro football league effort ever seen around the Southern Ohio area.

Unfortunately, the Tanks — who entered Saturday evening’s BCFL Championship affair as a top-20 semi-pro football program in the United States — couldn’t close the deal in its championship game battle against Butler County as West Portsmouth fell, 8-3, to the Broncos at The Complex in West Portsmouth.

For Jamie Rice, the loss was both disappointing and puzzling to the veteran head coach.

“Butler County did a good job of limiting their turnovers,” Rice said. “We didn’t have a whole lot of opportunities to take punts back and take interceptions back, so they did a good job with that. Every time we would have a good opportunity there, we would self-destruct a little bit and mess up the play. We just couldn’t make it happen. A lot of it was self-inflicted. We had a lot of self-inflicted penalties and things. I’m not really sure why.”

After the Broncos went on a 13-play, 69-yard drive to start the contest — which was capped off by a 31-yard touchdown pass from Steve Cunningham to Tae White — that put Butler County up by an 8-0 margin with 8:01 to play in the first quarter, the West Portsmouth defense bowed up and showed its dominance from that point forward.

In fact, throughout the remaining 53:01 of the contest, the Broncos managed just 34 total yards — including 14 in the first half following the 69-yard drive — as West Portsmouth, despite facing its own struggles on the offensive end, kept the contest at an 8-0 margin heading into the locker room.

“Defensively, we struggled through the first series of the game, and then we played awesome after that,” Rice said. “Giving up eight points in a game is nothing to be ashamed of at all. They didn’t let us down.”

In the second half, the Tanks looked as if they would emerge out of their own shadow offensively as a 13-play drive allowed Zack Christensen to boot home a 26-yard field goal attempt, which cut the Butler County lead to an 8-3 margin with 6:11 to play in the third quarter.

The ensuing drives after that, however, weren’t as successful. After going 47 yards on its first drive of the second half, West Portsmouth was only able to obtain 41 yards over the remaining 21:11 of the contest as penalties — 11 flags for 135 yards overall — and turnovers — four crucial miscues in the second half — led to the aforementioned issues.

“It was just stringing together plays,” Rice said of the team’s issues offensively. “They did a really good job of limiting our big plays, so we weren’t able to tear off 40, 50 yard plays at a time. We had to be more grind-it-out, and when you’re more of a grind-it-out team, you’re more susceptible to penalties, or missing a block and losing three yards. Now, you’re facing second-and-13. Well, second-and-13, when you’re gaining three or four yards a play, puts you in a bad spot. They did a good job of keeping field position, and a lot of times, we would have to punt instead of going for it on fourth down. If we’re in positive field position, we’re going for it on fourth down. When you’re in your own territory, you get three. They did a good job of maintaining field position, got big plays when they needed them, and kept us on our heels a little bit.”

Even with all of its struggles offensively, West Portsmouth still had several chances to take the lead, and change momentum in the contest, for good, with the score still sitting at an 8-3 mark entering the fourth quarter of play.

But each of the two serious drives that followed had a similar theme to the one that the Tanks’ offense had faced all night long. After West Portsmouth forced a three-and-out, an incomplete pass by Snook Martin was followed by a fumble in Butler County territory. Then, it seemingly looked as if the Tanks had erased those demons after Toryan Whiting picked off a Cunningham pass and was able to return the pick inside the Butler County 40 on an electrifying return.

However, a block in the back and a personal foul at the spot of the pick forced West Portsmouth to start the ensuing drive from its own 4, which ultimately ended in an interception after a seven-play drive after the Tanks advanced to its own 40 yard line. Those miscues proved to be the dagger in a disheartening loss for West Portsmouth.

“We were driving, and we threw a bad interception down here (in Butler County territory),” Rice said. “It was my fault. I probably shouldn’t have called a pass there. We were running the ball well on that particular drive.”

Even with the defeat, West Portsmouth still had plenty to be proud of. Despite missing over half of the season due to season-ending surgery, West Portsmouth’s Job Swords was named as the BCFL’s Co-Offensive Player of the Year. Fellow teammate Richard Elery (BCFL Co-Defensive Player of the Year) and defensive coordinator Brian Wroten (Defensive Coordinator of the Year) allowed the Tanks to garner excellent representation on the All-BCFL list.

“I’m proud of all of the guys,” Rice said. “They did well. It’s a tough loss, honestly. It’s not fun to lose. It’s never fun to lose.”

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West Portsmouth’s Snook Martin runs toward the near side on a quarterback keeper.
https://www.portsmouth-dailytimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2017/09/web1_rsz_dsc_3743.jpgWest Portsmouth’s Snook Martin runs toward the near side on a quarterback keeper. Kevin Colley | Daily Times

West Portsmouth’s A.J. Williams runs toward the near side.
https://www.portsmouth-dailytimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2017/09/web1_rsz_dsc_3754.jpgWest Portsmouth’s A.J. Williams runs toward the near side. Kevin Colley | Daily Times

By Kevin Colley

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