PORTSMOUTH — While the new cast of Portsmouth Trojans are not at the very top of the Ohio Valley Conference, they are not at the very bottom of it either.
But perhaps, just in what tier of the eight-team conference are the Trojans truly in could be more refined following Friday night.
That’s because 1-1 Portsmouth, playing all OVC contests of course in this six-game regular season, faces Fairland for an opportunity at being at least considered the third-best conference club — with an eye ultimately on at least finishing second.
In order to accomplish that, prior to back-to-back road shows to end September, the Trojans need to put out the 2-0 Dragons’ fire — as Portsmouth plays Fairland on Friday night inside spectacular Trojan Coliseum.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m., although —in accordance with an Ohio Department of Health order —there will be a limitation on the number of spectators which can attend.
The Trojans, which lost against Ironton in the season opener 50-9, captured their first victory last week when they traveled and won at South Point 31-14.
Last season, and already into this one, Ironton is the overwhelming favorite for a repeat OVC championship —and these Fighting Tigers took their second step towards that last week with a 55-7 rout of Gallia Academy.
While a victory over Ironton by any OVC squad would be considered an epic and all-time upset, perhaps picking off Gallia Academy is more realistic —as most OVC observers believe the Blue Devils are the second-best team in the league.
But Portsmouth plans to eventually chase down the Devils, as the two newest OVC members square off in the regular-season finale.
Before that, though, the Trojans travel to Chesapeake (Sept. 18) and Coal Grove (Sept. 25) in back-to-back weeks —while first things first fast-paced Fairland comes calling.
Portsmouth coach Bruce Kalb, in an interview on Tuesday, agreed that this week was a good measuring stick game for his program.
“It’s safe to say that Ironton is on its path to repeating what it did last year, then you come back with South Point who is much improved. We’re three games in, and this week will see some more of how we stack up,” said the coach.
While overwhelmed against Ironton, the young Trojans put away the rebuilding Pointers, which have struggled in recent seasons.
Drew Roe completed 17-of-31 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns, as the Trojans made a pair of explosive 55-yard second-half scoring plays —a touchdown connection from Roe to Chris Duff followed by an interception return by Dariyonne Bryant.
Joel Bowling booted all four of his extra-point kick attempts, plus a field goal.
“It’s always nice to get that first win of the year, especially with a young team. You work hard all summer trying to get as ready as you can, so to go down there and execute on both sides and come out with a victory, it’s a lot better feeling than the other way. It wasn’t the prettiest at times because we had our fair share of penalties, but our kids went out and did what they needed to do to win the game,” said Kalb.
Kalb continued by immediately addressing Portsmouth’s penalties, as the Trojans were whistled for 11 flags for 75 yards at South Point.
While most of them were of the 5-yard illegal procedure variety, preventing personal fouls and those dreaded 15-yarders were also discussed.
“Our Monday practices are always focused around what we need to fix. Most of our penalties were false starts, although sometimes our emotions got the best of us, and we addressed again and re-emphasized to our kids to take the high road in those situations,” said Kalb. “There’s no call on the call sheet for second-and-forever or third-and-forever. A 3rd-and-25 or 2nd-and-30 because of a holding or personal-foul penalty, that’s just unacceptable. We can’t find ourselves in too many of those positions and expect to come out with a victory. We feel our competition will be a lot better this week, and we can’t make those mental mistakes. They will cost us big time.”
Indeed, Fairland is a step up from South Point.
And, the Dragons —which actually avoid Ironton on the revised schedule this season —do bring with them plenty of experience, athleticism and speed.
Fairland’s first two triumphs were over archrival Chesapeake (28-13) and ground-and-pound Coal Grove (27-21), in which the Dragons dominated the visiting Hornets for the first 25-and-a-half minutes in leading 27-0.
While the Hornets held the football and rushed on 54 of their 58 snaps, the spread-oriented Dragons did damage on big plays —including a 97-yard pass from quarterback Max Ward to receiver Gavin Hunt.
Ward was 10-of-15 passing for 211 yards and three TDs, with Hunt hauling in five for 142 yards.
Zander Schmidt scored three times, including catching the other two touchdowns from Ward —one of which went for 35 yards as he also ran 55 yards to paydirt.
Kalb said his Trojans have to account for the Dragons’ athletic ability and making plays in space — and often times those being big scoring plays.
“Looking against Chesapeake and especially against Coal Grove last week, their touchdown plays were big plays,” he said. “You have to make sure as a defense you are not falling asleep and knowing the down and distance.”
Hunt is considered by many to be Fairland’s best athlete, while the Dragons — coached by veteran mentor Melvin Cunningham — do like to run the ball with Jordan Williams.
“Definitely a lot of athletes for Fairland. You can tell they are trying to get their play-makers the ball in space,” said Kalb. “Between the (Jordan) Williams kid and the (Gavin) Hunt kid, we need to make sure we know where they are at. Those are the two kids that pop out on film, and it seems like Coach (Melvin) Cunningham tries to move those guys around to find a mismatch or a matchup that he feels favorable for them. I’ve always felt Coach Cunningham has been one of the tougher coaches to gameplan against.”
In addition to tackling the speedy Dragons, the Trojans must also put pressure on Ward — and make him uncomfortable throwing the football.
“When you have a quarterback like Max Ward, he’s going to be able to deliver the ball where he needs to when he needs to,” said Kalb. “That’s another point of emphasis this week. We have a motto here on defense to ‘play your position, play it well and play it with discipline.’ That last part is the hardest part. We take pride in trying to focus on the littlest of things. When you step off on the wrong foot, or your three-step back-pedal isn’t exactly three steps, you find yourself out of position. Once you are out of position, a team like Fairland is going to capitalize.”
But Portsmouth plays, this year at least, a similar spread style to the Dragons — given the graduation of the Trojans’ all-time leading rusher Talyn Parker.
Kalb was asked if a ball-control, clock-consuming offensive approach would be the Trojans’ best defense on Friday night.
“Playing fast and getting our athletes the ball in space is also our goal on offense,” he said.
Thus, Trojan Coliseum could host a high-scoring track meet — and measuring sticks are always involved with those.
For the Trojans, Fairland should serve as a great gauge as to whether they are among the OVC’s top 2020 tier.
“There’s not a week off in this league and that’s what I love about it,” said Kalb. “There is good competition and I expect nothing less from Fairland Friday night.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved