Although last week was the midseason point for high school football in Ohio, things are just beginning to pick up in conference play around the area.
For the OVC’s Portsmouth Trojans, there is still plenty of hope for this season, and several chances for the Trojans to make noise in their conference moving forward.
Currently, Portsmouth is tied for second place with Ironton. Both teams sport a 2-3 record, but an identical 1-1 conference mark.
This week’s opponent for the Trojans are the Coal Grove Hornets, who enter the game at 4-1 with a 2-0 record in the OVC. Coal Grove is currently tied with Fairland and Gallia Academy in the standings with that unbeaten record in conference play.
Without a doubt, this game has big implications for Portsmouth. “This game is very important,” Trojans head coach Aaron Duncan said. “We’re 1-1 in the OVC right now … but there’s a lot of parity in this conference. It’s kind of like anybody can beat anybody on any given night.”
Portsmouth is hoping they learned from their loss last week at Gallia Academy, and can apply some of those lessons to their matchup with the Hornets.
Duncan says that heartbreaking 36-35 loss was not ignored, but rather discussed all week at Portsmouth’s practices.
“We talked about it,” Duncan said. “There was lot of things that we got the point out in film session this week, some teaching points that we used as a coaching staff.”
One of the glaring issues Duncan spotted on film was the tackling from his team.
“First and foremost, we had too many missed tackles,” Duncan said. “We charted our missed tackles and we charted our “loafs” – when we see kids loafing, when we see kids missing tackles, and we pointed those out.”
The film study for the Trojans this week saw a lot of players getting called out for their miscues the week before.
“Kids see themselves on film missing tackles and whenever there was a loaf occurring we let them see themselves, and asked them if that’s how they want to play the game and if they thought that was acceptable,” Duncan said.
Along with the visual approach to teaching his players, Duncan also employed a hands-on week of preparation in his practices.
“We tackle every day, but we devoted a little more time to our tackling this week and got back to some of the basics there,” Duncan said. “Hopefully it will pay off and we’ll do a better job tackling this week.”
Coal Grove’s offense presents a unique challenge for Portsmouth because the Hornets can attack from a multitude of formations.
Duncan said on the Coal Grove offense: “they kind of play two styles of football: they’ve been in the spread where they’re three and four wide in the shotgun, then they can also get into some power football sets where they’re double tight.”
Coal Grove also has a massive offensive and defensive line, which could pose problems for Portsmouth. The Hornets also have a talented backfield, led by junior Nate Harmon who has spent time at quarterback and in the backfield for Coal Grove, and junior Kyle Sites who has been tough to stop at running back for the Hornets.
Sites has caught the eye of Duncan and the coaching staff of the Trojans as a player to watch. “He’s a good football player,” Duncan said on Sites. “He’s fast, and if he gets a step on you he can take it. He runs really hard.”
“They’ve got some good athletes to go along with those guys in the trenches and we’ll have our work cut out for us,” Duncan said. “We definitely have to play disciplined, assignment football to try and slow them down whenever they’re on offense.”
When the Trojans have the ball on offense, they’ll be faced with a tall task of trying to run against the big, tough defensive line of Coal Grove.
The challenge is certainly there for Portsmouth. “It’s hard,” Duncan said. “It’s tough sledding running up inside on these guys.”
However, it’s something that needs to be done according to the Portsmouth head coach.
“We’ve got to be able to establish our running game up inside to set up our play action, and also be able to attack on the perimeter to try and get those guys running in space a little bit,” Duncan said.”
Fortunately for the Trojans, they have sophomore Talyn Parker back healthy at running back. In his first game back from injury last week, Parker ran for over 100 yards and scored a touchdown.
Duncan is undoubtedly thrilled about having Parker back. “Getting Talyn in the backfield last week was a shot in the arm for the offense, and makes it a little harder for other teams to defend us having Isaac Kelly back there as a running and passing threat, and Talyn in the backfield,” Duncan said.
Parker will be a part of Portsmouth’s plans the rest of the season. “We’ve got to continue to keep building on what we’re doing and get Talyn healthier each week, and continue from there,” Duncan said.
This week will be a tough task for the Trojans, but the game is crucial for Portsmouth’s hopes at contending for an OVC title.
Coal Grove, of course, is feeling pretty good about themselves with the unblemished conference record.
“I’m sure that they want to compete for that league title, and if we want to stay in the talk we’ve got to knock Coal Grove off,” Duncan said about the game.
Reach Benjamin Spicer at (502)264-7318 or on Twitter @BSpicerPDT