PORTSMOUTH — Simply put, the Trojans are back on their horse, back in the state playoffs, and back on the road again.
You can even call it Portsmouth’s senior trip.
But, the aim indeed is to be one week better, just like Portsmouth was one game better this past regular season.
The 8-2 Trojans, making their 11th all-time OHSAA state playoff appearance, travel three hours to Ridgewood High School on Saturday — for a Division V, Region 19 quarterfinal with the host, and undefeated, Generals.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. on Saturday night at Ridgewood High School, which is located in West Lafayette.
For the Generals, this is their 14th all-time playoff berth, as Portsmouth is 8-10 all-time while Ridgewood is 6-13.
But while the second-seeded Generals are regular playoff participants, the seventh-seeded Trojans experienced a full decade’s worth of postseason drought — as 2007 was the most recent campaign prior to last year.
Bruce Kalb — completing his second season as Portsmouth head coach — consistently has praised the senior class for not only accepting the mantle passed on by last year’s group, but by leading by example and thus preparing themselves for this year’s trip.
“We’re excited. Here we set 8-2, second year in a row we get to take the trip to play in week 11, and happy with where we’re at. We look forward to a battle on Saturday night. It would be easy to complain about traveling a long distance to play a playoff game on a Saturday night on a natural (grass) surface. My message to the team was at this point, we’ve been there and we’ve done that,” said Kalb, in an interview on Tuesday. “Last year, first trip in 11 years, it would be easy to say we were happy to just be there. This year, I asked this senior class to be one game better than last year in the regular season. Then the experience and everything we’ve done from that (playoff) game at (Middletown) Madison last year with this senior class has prepared us for this Saturday at Ridgewood. We have the experience of what it’s like to travel a long distance to play a game. This year, three of our road games and two of which were an hour or more were on grass (Gallia Academy and Fairland). We know some of the intangibles, some of those things you can’t control, at least we have a familiarity with them.”
One thing the Trojans are familiar with is scoring via the big play, spearheaded by the school’s all-time rushing leader in senior Talyn Parker.
In the regular season, Parker rushed for a dozen yards (1,488) shy of exactly 1,500 on 150 carries, amassing 25 touchdowns and a 9.92 yards per carry average.
Against Ironton a week ago, Parker posted 108 yards on 18 carries — and scored on a 42-yard dash to give Portsmouth it’s only points of the night in a 48-7 defeat.
But Ironton indeed has a stalwart defensive line, as do the Generals, as Kalb quickly pointed out Ridgewood’s strength.
Zach Prater (6-1, 290, jr.) and Bryce Prater (6-3, 280, jr.) are twin brothers — as Zach has 35 tackles, including eight for loss and five sacks, while Bryce has 23 tackles, including 11 for loss and four-and-a-half sacks.
The ends are Kaden Smith (5-11, 205, sr.) and J.J. Durr (5-11, 215, jr.), combining for 62 tackles, 22 of which were for loss with 11 sacks.
Portsmouth’s offensive line will need to get the Prater twins blocked so Parker can find running lanes, while sophomore quarterback Drew Roe makes his first postseason start — having completed 92 passes on 161 attempts with 1,371 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Of his six interceptions on the season, he threw three last week, as Ironton — like Gallia Academy in the Trojans’ only other loss this season — made Portsmouth pay.
“They have a couple of defensive tackles that pop out on film and very aggressive defensive ends,” said Kalb.
Offensively, while Parker is the reigning Division V Southeast District Offensive Player of the Year, Ridgewood quarterback Gabe Tingle — a 5-foot 11-inch 180-pound sophomore — slung the ball around for 2,052 yards and 22 TDs with only two interceptions.
He completed 70-percent of his passes on 99 out of 141 attempts, and also rushed for 726 yards on 83 carries with 15 trips to paydirt.
Tingle was a frontrunner for East District Division V Offensive Player of the Year, as the Generals — which steamrolled through the Inter-Valley Conference — played in nine games with a running clock with six of those 10 tilts featuring the starters not playing a down in the second half.
“The quarterback runs the show. He makes their offense go. He can run the ball well, he can throw the ball well. It’s somebody who we have to account for on every snap,” said Kalb. “If you put too much pressure on him, he is going to burn you with his legs. If you try to box him in, he is going to hit somebody on a screen pass or throw it downfield for a big gain. We have to make sure we know where he is at all times. We have to at least slow him down, if we can’t stop him.”
Kalb said the Generals are schematically similar to the Trojans — a spread-based offense that the coach said “reminds me of a lot of Waverly, a little bit of Wheelersburg in years past”.
“They are very quarterback-centered. This is a kid who can throw it on a rope from hash-mark to numbers, but he can also throw it deep and drop it in the bucket to a receiver running down the sideline. He definitely can make the offense go with his legs too,” he said. “And he’s definitely a competitor. They’ve got him for a couple of more years after this. He is a sophomore, but they are a young team that already has a lot of experience.”
The top receiver is Kolten Smith — a 5-10 170-pound senior who has 37 receptions for 778 yards and seven touchdowns with a 21.2 yards per catch average.
Perhaps Portsmouth’s best defense will be its offense — should it show some of what it did in the second half against Ironton and demonstrate tighter offensive formations with Parker picking up yards.
But Kalb said simply “we’re going to do what got us here”.
“We’re going to get in and out of what we feel is going to give us the most success,” he said. “To give us the running lanes Talyn Parker needs, to give us the reads and time that Drew Roe needs to throw, to get our receivers open…you go with what got you here and you don’t reinvent the wheel with a few days of practice in week 11. We need to force their defense to honor us and make them defend us sideline-to-sideline.”
The Trojans can also ill-afford costly penalties plus turnovers.
“Ridgewood is going to be good, and whenever we have opportunities to score and take advantage, we HAVE to capitalize. In our two losses, we didn’t do that. In our wins, especially our bigger wins, they have been crucial to our success,” said Kalb. “We know what we have to do to make sure we win this game on Saturday night.”
And, should the Trojans do just that, they indeed will be one week better than the 11 of a year ago.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved