The Portsmouth Trojans (2-2) made some noise in their opening week with a 35-7 win over Valley at home.
Since then, though, Portsmouth has gone 1-2, and played their last three games on the road.
Portsmouth, however, has embraced the road trips of the past several weeks. “We’re kind of considering ourselves the road warriors,” Portsmouth head coach Aaron Duncan said. “Four straight road games, as far as taking a trip that’s not going to be an issue for us.”
That road game theme is set to continue Friday night when the Trojans head to Gallipolis to meet the Gallia Academy Blue Devils (2-2).
Gallia Academy had a combined record of 2-18 the last two seasons, but a coaching change has sparked a surprising turnaround within the program.
Alex Penrod was named the new Blue Devils head coach in March of this year. Penrod has installed an up tempo, no-huddle offense that has created problems for opposing teams so far this season.
Last week, Penrod’s Gallia Academy squad surprised everyone in the area when they defeated previously unbeaten Chesapeake by a score of 34-21.
The victory put the Blue Devils on the map, but now Gallia Academy isn’t flying under anyone’s radar, especially Portsmouth’s.
Duncan has spent plenty of time preparing for the Blue Devils, and has made sure his kids know what’s at stake in this game.
“We told them that Gallia’s program is improving, they’ve got a coaching change up there and their coach has got their kids playing hard and with some excitement,” Duncan said. “They started out 2-2, which is better start than they’ve had in several years, so their kids are excited.”
The Trojans were able to capture their second win of the season last Friday with a 31-28 win over Rock Hill. That victory did not come easy, though, as the Redmen were able to rush for 291 yards against Portsmouth.
While the rushing defense is a concern for Duncan and the Trojans, Gallia Academy will approach their offense much differently than Rock Hill did.
“Rock Hill is more of an Ironton of old where they’re going to line up and run it right at you in the nature of their attack,” Duncan said. “Gallia does not line up and run right at you. They spread you out to run, and they spread you out to dink and dunk you in the passing game.”
With the contrast of styles, Portsmouth is hoping to make some adjustments to try and shut down the Gallia attack.
“Our kids have to play assignment football and be very disciplined,” Duncan said. “Make sure we get aligned properly, and that everybody is in the same coverage.”
When the Blue Devils have the ball, they will have no issue with having speed on the field. Gallia Academy likes to use multiple formations and find mismatches offensively.
“Their offense is no huddle, up tempo and they run, I believe we’ve got 18 different formations charted that we’ve seen in two game films,” Duncan said about Gallia’s offense. “A lot of those formations, they’ll spread you out. Their coach is very good at trying to find the matchup that he wants. He’ll use motion and formations to try and out formation you.”
The Blue Devils offense is led by quarterback Justin McClelland, who is versatile and able to present a lot of challenges with his passing ability, as well as on the ground.
“They’ve got a quarterback that’s a good running threat as well as a thrower,” Duncan said. “So, we’ve got to take away both facets of the game.”
McClelland rushed for two touchdowns and threw for another in Gallia Academy’s win over Chesapeake last week.
Portsmouth has been able to try and mimic the Gallia Academy plays in practice, since the Trojans run some no huddle themselves. The scout team for Portsmouth has worked all week to try and duplicate what the Blue Devils have done so well this season.
“Of course, that doesn’t simulate a varsity football team that does that all the time,” Duncan said. “But, we’re able to give it a pretty good look.”
Along with the practice, Duncan hopes that the experience of his secondary will be able to adapt to what Gallia wants to do on offense. The recognition from his defensive backfield will be crucial in trying to slow down the Blue Devil offensive attack.
“That’s something that you have to be able to process and move fast, and for high school kids sometimes that’s an issue,” Duncan said. “But, we feel pretty good because we’ve got some seniors back there in the secondary and they’re seasoned and have a lot of game experience under their belts.”
The Trojans have a dual threat quarterback of their own in Isaac Kelly, who has stepped up big for Portsmouth, especially after Talyn Parker was injured in the opening game against Valley.
“Isaac’s been phenomenal for us,” Duncan said about his quarterback. “When Talyn went down, Isaac assumed the role of the main rusher on the team. He’s really been a leader. He’s been able to keep us to where we were able to keep our head above water while we’ve battled through some of this injury bug.”
Portsmouth is hoping to get a big performance from Kelly as well as the defense in order to knock off their second OVC foe of the year.
“We’re 1-0 in the OVC and this is another OVC game,” Duncan said. “We’ve got a chance to play a good game and come out and hopefully be 2-0. We’ve got to guard against any type of letdown and we’ve got to continue to improve and cut out our mistakes to be able to beat these guys Friday night.”
Reach Benjamin Spicer at (502)264-7318 or on Twitter @BSpicerPDT