If the top-ranked Portsmouth Warriors want to improve on their undefeated record this weekend against the Northern Bulldogs, they’ll have to do it without some of their key contributors.
Bumps and bruises, coupled with a nearly four-hour road trip to Fairmont, W. Va., will hold out five Warrior team leaders — Luke Brown, Jontez Jones, Jemaine Payton, Snook Martin and Steve Lee.
Running backs Jones and Brown have helped spearhead one of the country’s most potent rushing attacks, while Payton has proved to be a valuable target for quarterback Justin Lunsford. On the defensive side of the ball, veteran lineman Lee has been a vocal leader for the defense, while many consider Martin to be one of the best defensive backs in the Blue Collar Football League (BCFL).
Last week, Brown, Martin and Jones combined to score five touchdowns in the Warriors’ 44-12 victory over the Cincinnati Dukes.
Despite the losses, Warriors’ coach Jamie Rice is confident that the 40 players that are able to make the trip are experienced enough to get the job done.
“We rotate so many guys. We probably play 28 guys on defense, probably 23 or so on offense,” he said. “A lot of these guys, they’ll play 30 percent of the snaps in normal games, they’ll play 60 percent of the snaps in this game.”
Saturday’s game will be the first that the Warriors have ever played against the Bulldogs. Being in just their first season in the BCFL, Rice and his fellow coaches don’t know much about their opponent and haven’t been able to find a game film.
“We’re going to have to go into this game blind, which is OK,” he said. “We’re not really a gimmicky team. We line up and we do what we do.”
The Warriors do have one common opponent with the Bulldogs. On May 5, the West Virginia Storm defeated the Bulldogs 48-18. Three weeks later, the Warriors defeated the Storm 64-0 at Spartan Stadium.
Just about the only strategy Rice has for Saturday’s game is an emphasis on the passing game. Without Jones and Brown, he expects Lunsford to have a big day throwing the ball.
“We might break a Warriors’ record on pass attempts,” he said.
One thing’s for sure: The Warriors aren’t feeling the pressure of being the No. 1 team in the AA East National Poll.
“We have a high expectation for ourselves anyway. There’s not any added pressure,” Rice said. “We have an expectation to win every game we play in, and I think we have a shot at that.”
Reach Alex Hider at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931 or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter