PORTSMOUTH — For the Portsmouth Trojans to be successful on Friday night, they had to know where Fairland’s Gavin Hunt was at — at all times.
However, if he was in the end zone celebrating, then that indeed was a bad sign.
And, in fact, Hunt —arguably the Dragons’ best athlete and definitely one of the top football players in the entire Ohio Valley Conference, had himself a game against the young Trojans.
That’s because Hunt ran the opening kickoff back for a touchdown, caught a big-play pass for a score, racked up almost 10 receptions and 100 receiving yards, and even converted a fake punt in largely leading the undefeated Dragons to a 34-6 victory over Portsmouth inside sparkling Trojan Coliseum.
With Ohio’s high school football regular season reduced down to a six-game minimum, the OVC is only playing conference contests — as the Dragons raised their record to 3-0 while Portsmouth fell to 1-2.
Friday’s affair was seen by some observers as a de facto third-place league game, as Ironton is halfway home to a second consecutive OVC championship —and Gallia Academy is an odds-on squad to finish as the runner-up.
But perhaps Portsmouth, with a win over the visiting Dragons, could have had a greater say for second-place —and even though it’s a much longer shot now, still might.
Although, the Trojans allowed the Dragons to do the very things Portsmouth could ill-afford.
That being making big plays.
Hunt hit first with his 88-yard TD return of the opening kickoff, Tevin Taylor’s tipped pass reception resulting in a touchdown, Hunt having another score on a 36-yard reception, and J.D. Brumfield breaking loose for a 45-yard paydirt dart almost halfway through the third quarter.
That made it 27-0, as Taylor then took a handoff for 33 yards halfway through the fourth period —setting up Fairland’s final touchdown on his own 1-yard run.
Emma Marshall made the fourth of her four extra-point attempts, the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s running-clock rule took effect, and the Trojans’ try at remaining with only one loss officially went by the wayside.
The Trojans did avert a shutout at least, driving 65 yards and seven plays —with quarterback Drew Roe completing a 7-yard touchdown toss to tight end Michael Duncan on the final Portsmouth play from scrimmage.
But making plays, unfortunately for the Trojans, were few and far between — but plentiful for Fairland.
“That’s what they specialize in and (Fairland) Coach (Melvin) Cunningham does a fantastic job of finding those matchups and alignments and exploiting that with what defenses give them. Hats off to Coach Cunningham for coming in with a good gameplan and executing it,” said Portsmouth coach Bruce Kalb. “I really thought defensively our kids stepped up and fought against what we knew was going to be a very athletic and explosive team. Our defense never gave up and they made Fairland fight to the end for everything. But giving up an 88-yard opening kickoff return sets the wrong tone for us and the right tone for them.”
Indeed it did, as Hunt handled Joel Bowling’s boot at the 12-yard-line in stride, made some reaching Trojan tacklers miss up the middle with their arm attempts, and suddenly was off to the races for a 6-0 lead only 15 seconds in.
Fairland coach Melvin Cunningham commented on his club’s quick start.
“We had talked all week where we thought Portsmouth did some things as far as running lanes on kickoffs that we thought we could take advantage of. And let’s just be honest. Gavin (Hunt) is a great football player,” he said. “He just does what he does.”
What he did later, with a minute-and-a-half remaining in the half, followed Fairland’s fortune with the Dragons recovering a fumble of a Portsmouth interception.
With the Dragons keeping possession, and from the Trojan 36-yard-line, quarterback Max Ward hit Hunt on a crossing route at the 25 — as Hunt had separation on a Portsmouth defender directly trailing him.
Ward hooked up with Hunt in stride, as the receiver made a move along the sideline to stay inbounds — and ultimately extend the Dragons’ bulge to 20-0.
Hunt had seven receptions for 93 yards, as his 26-yard catch right before the half had the Dragons down to the Portsmouth seven — and looking to score again.
Although they didn’t, as actually Ward threw the final of his four interceptions despite completing 15-of-28 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns, the Dragons didn’t worry —thanks to their fire-breathing and pressure-bringing defense.
Portsmouth punted seven first-half times and nine total, as four in the first half and five total possessions resulted in three-and-outs.
The Trojans reached midfield on the opening series, but didn’t again until their initial second-half possession —when they did so again only this time to turn the ball over on downs.
They reached midfield again on the following possession, but this time punted for the eighth time —before their fifth three-and-out series and ultimately their touchdown.
As part of a 50-yard first half, the Trojans rushed for minus-5 yards —part of only 27 yards on 20 carries for the entire game.
Amare Johnson had 43 yards on 13 totes, as Roe completed 17-of-31 passes for 153 yards —with Chris Duff (five for 33 yards), Dariyonne Bryant (four for 55 yards) and Reade Pendleton (four foe 34 yards) posting at least four catches and 33 yards apiece.
But the Dragons rushed Roe from the pocket early and often, forcing him to scramble and fire on the run.
“We asked ourselves all week if they would be able to match us athletically, and they did. If they were able to bring pressure, we were afraid of it being a long night for us and it was,” said Kalb. “We were looking around at what was going to be able to get us moving a little bit. Once we did, it seemed like we shot ourselves in the foot with a bad snap or a penalty.”
Of Portsmouth’s six penalties, five were of the five-yard variety —as the ball slipped out of Roe’s hands once which resulted in a killer 17-yard loss.
“Our defense carried us tonight,” said Cunningham. “Our goal is we try to get six. We feel if we can get six on defense, we can win each Friday night. We want to get as many turnovers, three-and-outs and fourth-down stops as we can. Our three-man defensive line really used their speed and got after the quarterback and put a lot of pressure on. We played well tonight on that side, and we needed to because our offense didn’t play well.”
Brumfield, bolstered by his touchdown jaunt immediately following the Trojans’ turnover on downs, carried eight times for 109 yards —as Fairland rushed for 192 yards on 24 attempts.
The Dragons punted just twice, and withstood Ward’s four interceptions and 11 penalties for 80 yards by playing lights out defense and making plays on offense.
Those big pass plays eluded the Trojans early, as at least four Roe attempts either overthrew by mere feet or brushed his receivers’ finger-tips.
He finally found Duncan in the corner of the end zone with 33 seconds remaining.
Kalb said that’s a sign of his young team not quitting.
“It’s easy to roll over and say it’s a long night, but that’s not who we are,” he said. “We might be young and inexperienced, but our kids have a lot of fight in them. We have some great seniors who will never let these kids quit. I saw a lot good leadership, both physically and mentally, out there tonight. It’s easy to give up, but we’re not always about doing what is easy. I’m very proud of our kids’ effort tonight and trying all the way to the end.”
The Trojans return to the road next Friday for a matchup at fellow 1-2 Chesapeake.
* * *
Fairland 34, Portsmouth 6
Fairland 13 7 7 7 —34
Portsmouth 0 0 0 6— 6
F — Gavin Hunt, 88-yard kickoff return (pass failed), 11:45, 1st (6-0 F)
F — Tevin Taylor, 11-yard pass from Max Ward (Emma Marshall kick), :43, 1st (13-0 F)
F — Gavin Hunt, 36-yard pass from Max Ward (Emma Marshall kick), 1:29, 2nd (20-0 F)
F — J.D. Brumfield, 45-yard run (Emma Marshall kick), 7:52, 3rd (27-0 F)
F — Tevin Taylor, 1-yard run (Emma Marshall kick), 6:24, 4th (34-0 F)
P — Michael Duncan, 7-yard pass from Drew Roe (kick failed), :33, 4th (34-6 F)
First downs 17 11
Plays from scrimmage 52 51
Rushes-yards 24-192 20-27
Passing yards 172 153
Total yards 364 180
Cmp-Att-Int. 15-28-4 17-31-0
Fumbles-lost 1-0 4-1
Penalties-Yards 11-80 6-40
Punts-Ave. 2-39.5 9-31.1
RUSHING —Fairland: J.D. Brumfield 8-109 TD, Tevin Taylor 5-44 TD, Jordan Williams 4-19, Max Ward 2-20, Zander Schmidt 2-7, Gavin Hunt 1-7, Team 2-(-14); Portsmouth: Amare Johnson 13-43, Drew Roe 6-1, Team 1-(-17)
PASSING — Fairland: Max Ward 15-28-4-172 2TD; Portsmouth: Drew Roe 17-31-0-153 TD
RECEIVING — Fairland: Gavin Hunt 7-93 TD, Zander Schmidt 5-49, J.D. Brumfield 2-19, Tevin Taylor 1-11 TD; Portsmouth: Chris Duff 5-33, Dariyonne Bryant 4-55, Reade Pendleton 4-34, Michael Duncan 2-26 TD, Jesse Dixon 1-5, Amare Johnson 1-0
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