One thing was for certain in Friday night’s game between Portsmouth and Coal Grove.
Both schools wanted to win badly, and each team fought to the final seconds to try and capture a victory. The Hornets were able to outlast the Trojans, 19-14.
There were different motives for each team entering the contest.
Coal Grove wanted a win to try and create some separation in the OVC standings. Portsmouth hoped to win to try and make up some ground in the conference race.
This matchup was expected to be an extremely physical affair, as both teams are renowned for their play on the line of scrimmage, and it lived up to the hype.
The teams traded blows early on. The Trojans opted to receive the opening kickoff and went three and out to start things off. Quickly, the defense was out on the field for Portsmouth.
The Trojan defense was something that head coach Aaron Duncan fine-tuned all week in practice, and those efforts paid off for Portsmouth in the game.
“They had a hard time running the ball on us, and that pleases me,” Duncan said. “We shut down the run, and for the most part Coal Grove is a running football team.”
The Hornets managed just 104 yards on 34 carries for an average of 3.1 yards per carry.
“Our defense, I think they played lights out tonight,” Duncan said.
Early on, the defense was on display. On Coal Grove’s first drive, the Trojans stopped the Hornets on downs to send a message defensively.
The following drive for Portsmouth saw quarterback Isaac Kelly run deep into Coal Grove territory when he busted a 29 yard run to the right side, all the way down to the Hornet 27 yard line. However, the Trojans were unable to capitalize on the field position and came up scoreless.
Portsmouth’s defense continued to shine on the next Coal Grove possession, as a DJ Pearsall tackle forced a fumble, which was grabbed by Jaden Josey. The Trojans defense forced a turnover, and the offense took over at the 40 yard line of the Hornets.
Once again though, Portsmouth fell short of scoring. Coal Grove caused a fumble and Evan Holmes scooped it up and sprinted all the way to the Trojans 13 yard line.
Still, Portsmouth’s defense was not breaking. The Trojans fought the Hornets for eight plays in the red zone, before running back Kyle Sites surged his way in for a touchdown on 4th down and 2 from the two yard line.
With 11:56 to play in the second quarter, Coal Grove held a 7-0 lead over Portsmouth.
It seemed as though the stars had aligned for the Hornets to score once more when Holmes intercepted a Trojans pass to give Coal Grove the ball at their own 49 yard line.
However, the Portsmouth defense still kept fighting. Even when the Hornets found their way back into the red zone, the Trojans were able to stop the Coal Grove threat.
A Hornets penalty pushed Coal Grove out of the red zone. The Hornets then fumbled on their next two plays, but were able to recover both. Coal Grove was forced to punt.
The Hornets had issues with penalties all game. Coal Grove racked up 11 penalties for 83 yards over the course of the game.
With the change of possession, Portsmouth also changed their offensive strategy. A steady dose of Talyn Parker sparked a 10 play, 92 yard drive. Parker capped off the long march down the field with a four yard touchdown run.
A missed extra point made the score 7-6 in favor of the Hornets with 1:50 to play in the first half.
The Hornets had plenty of time on the clock to score, but approached their drive conservatively. Attempting a run on 4th down, Coal Grove was stopped short of the marker and turned the ball over on downs.
There was 14 seconds on the clock for the Trojans, who had it at the Hornets 45 yard line. Kelly took several heaves to the end zone, and his final throw as the half expired was intercepted by Holmes.
At halftime, Coal Grove led 7-6.
The opening drive for the Hornets was pushed backwards by penalties. Coal Grove was forced to punt on their first possession, and Portsmouth took advantage.
Several clutch Talyn Parker runs gave the Trojans a touchdown and the lead. First, Talyn converted a 3rd down and 7 on a run play. Then, Talyn converted the same down and distance for a 26 yard touchdown run later in the drive.
Portsmouth went for a two point conversion to claim a seven point lead, and Kelly kept it himself to the right side and powered his way in for a successful try. With 2:42 left in the third quarter, the Trojans led for the first time at 14-7 on an 11 play, 68 yard drive.
Throughout the game, Coal Grove utilized two quarterbacks in junior Nate Harmon and sophomore Corey Borders. After Portsmouth claimed the lead, the Hornets decided to primarily use Harmon the rest of the way as the signal caller.
That decision paid off for Coal Grove, as Harmon found Jeb Jones for a 26 yard touchdown on 3rd down and 8 with 50 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
However, the Hornets missed the extra point. Portsmouth still held a 14-13 lead.
On the next drive for the Trojans, a tough decision arose. Portsmouth decided to go for a 4th down and 1 from their own 37 yard line. Their run was stuffed at the line, and Coal Grove took over with a great chance to take the lead.
“I probably in hindsight, it’s always 20-20, should have punted the ball,” Duncan said. “We didn’t, Coal Grove held us short, and they responded right back with a big pass play that kind of got the momentum shifted in their direction.”
The first play for the Hornets following the change of possession was a 37 yard pass to the right sideline from Harmon to Sam Angelo, who came up with a great catch to give Coal Grove a 19-14 lead with 10:18 to play in the game.
“[Nate Harmon] ended up coming in in the end and he made some nice throws on us,” Duncan said. “We had pretty good coverage, and their kids made good plays. We were right there in stride, and credit to their kid for making the big plays.”
Harmon then tried to pass for a two point conversion, but Portsmouth’s Deante Parker deflected the throw.
With the Deante Parker deflection, the Trojans now only trailed by five, and had plenty of time to make a move.
Portsmouth pushed the ball down the field. A 3rd down and 8 pass from Kelly to Parker Johnson moved the Trojan offense to their own 47 yard line.
It was there that they ran into some trouble. Facing a 4th down and 1, Portsmouth was flagged for a delay of game. The Trojans decided to run a pooch punt for Kelly when the penalty pushed the marker back to a 4th down and 6.
At that point it looked like the game belonged to Coal Grove, but Portsmouth caught a big break when the first play from scrimmage for the Hornets was a bad snap that resulted in a 14 yard loss.
The Hornets then went three and out, and the Trojans had the ball back with some life.
The drive began with a nice throw from Kelly that was mishandled and dropped. The senior didn’t panic, though, and rolled out to find Deante Parker for a big 23 yard gain and a first down.
After the chains moved, Portsmouth moved backwards with penalties. Faced with a 2nd down and 27, Kelly moved up in the pocket and took off for a 19 yard run.
When the down count moved to 3rd down and 8, Kelly kept his composure and found Johnson for a first down.
With the first down, the Trojans then threw a quick screen for another first down, but the play was called back for a block in the back. Faced with a 1st down and 17, Kelly rolled out to his left and had a receiver deep, but his pass fell just short and was intercepted by Coal Grove’s Joey Workman.
“The penalty bug got us, and that set us back,” Duncan said. “We just had too many obstacles to overcome then and weren’t able to make the play that we needed to make at the end.”
The Hornets were able to run the clock out from there and claim a hard fought victory.
After the game, Duncan took some time to compliment his team’s defensive efforts in what was a drastic improvement for the unit in just a week’s time.
“I’m proud of my kids,” Duncan said. “We talked after the game, two weeks in a row they’ve lost a tough one, that the measure of a man is how they bounce back and respond. This week, they bounced back in an admirable way.”
Portsmouth (2-4, 1-2) will look to bounce back again next week when they host Chesapeake (3-3, 0-3). Coal Grove (5-1, 3-0) will take on Gallia Academy (3-3, 2-1).
Coal Grove: Kyle Sites 2 yd run (XP good) 7-0
Portsmouth: Talyn Parker 4 yd run (XP missed) 7-6
Portsmouth: Talyn Parker 26 yd run (2 pt conversion good Kelly run) 14-7
Coal Grove: Jeb Jones 26 yd pass from Nate Harmon (XP missed) 14-13
Coal Grove: Sam Angelo 37 yd pass from Nate Harmon (2 pt conversion failed) 19-15
Reach Benjamin Spicer at (502)264-7318 or on Twitter @BSpicerPDT