PORTSMOUTH — The Portsmouth Trojans simply weren’t going to be satisfied with another sub-par defensive performance to close out their regular season.
After surrendering a combined 115 points in Ohio Valley Conference road losses at Chesapeake and Coal Grove during weeks four and five, third-year Portsmouth coach Bruce Kalb made the decision to challenge his team’s defensive capabilities.
With a Gallia Academy team which has averaged 45 points in each of its three OVC wins coming into Trojan Coliseum on Friday, Kalb’s message was a short, but simple one.
“I’m not going to lie, the last two weeks we haven’t lit the world on fire defensively,” Kalb said. “We put it before these guys — we’ve got to defend our home turf.”
Defend their home turf, they certainly did.
Although the result — an 18-12 overtime loss to the now 5-1 Blue Devils — didn’t reside in their favor, Kalb was proud of his team for stepping up to the challenge to limit Gallia Academy to just 12 points in 19 minutes and 39 seconds of possession during regulation.
“We challenged them, and they stepped up tonight to hold a Gallia team to 18 points — a team whose been scoring a lot all year,” Kalb said.
Gallia Academy senior tailback James Armstrong’s eight-yard rushing score on the Blue Devils’ first possession of overtime gave them a six-point advantage for the second time in the contest.
Portsmouth picked up five yards on its ensuing overtime possession, but was unable to pick up a first down to extend its chances — dropping its record to 1-5 to conclude the 2020 regular season.
The Trojans trailed the Blue Devils 6-0 at halftime after senior quarterback Noah Vanco connected with Armstrong on a 24-yard touchdown pass on what happened to be a 3rd-and-goal play from the Trojans’ 24-yard-line.
After picking up six first-half first downs but coming up empty in the scoring department, Portsmouth knew it needed to muster up a drive resulting in points to remain confident in its chances coming out of halftime.
“We knew we had to make some adjustments at halftime, we saw what was working and we wanted to keep hitting that,” Kalb said.
After the ensuing kickoff, Portsmouth polished off a 14-play, 75-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown pass from Drew Roe to senior receiver Chris Duff with 5:20 left in the third quarter.
Portsmouth attempted a two-point conversion following each of its two touchdowns — a decision based on not having nearly-automatic senior placekicker Joel Bowling available.
The Trojans were unable to convert either of their two-point tries.
Points were points, however, and Kalb acknowledged how crucial it was for his team to get onto the scoreboard and to tie the game at 6-6.
“Amare Johnson took over on that drive, some key runs to keep moving the chains,” Kalb said. “Coming out of half, that was huge to make sure we stayed in that game.”
Johnson was Portsmouth’s leading ballcarrier, rushing 18 times for 56 yards, as well as catching the go-ahead touchdown on a 10-yard reception with 8:30 to play to give the Trojans a 12-6 lead.
Roe’s touchdown pass to Johnson was his second of the night, as the junior play-caller finished 23-of-36 in passing attempts for 197 yards.
Sophomore Reade Pendleton was active in Portsmouth’s screen game, grabbing a team-high 10 catches for 68 yards.
On the ensuing Gallia Academy drive following Portsmouth’s go-ahead score, Armstrong scored his second touchdown — a 16-yard run in which the senior back simply walked into the end zone, tying the game 12-12 with 6:37 to play in regulation.
Portsmouth had possession for two more full drives in regulation, but was unable to muster any points after a lost fumble at the Gallia Academy 21-yard line — its lone turnover of the game — and a turnover on downs from the Gallia 40.
Armstrong was no doubt the differencemaker for Gallia Academy — finishing the game with 22 carries for a team-high 185 yards and three total scores.
Despite dropping their fourth straight in their annual league matchup with the Blue Devils and concluding their first sub-.500 regular season in Kalb’s first three, it seems clear that this year’s Trojans are trending in an upward direction at the right time.
Just like each school competing in this year’s OHSAA playoffs, which are set to kick off next weekend, the Trojans are indeed playoff eligible.
This coaching staff and core group of Trojans are no strangers to traveling for a playoff game — as Portsmouth traveled to Middletown Madison in 2018 and Ridgewood in 2019 for their postseason contests.
In what would have normally been week seven but instead is the first round of the Division V, Region 19 playoffs, Portsmouth will travel to Northwest for the first meeting between the two in each program’s long history.
Heading into the win-or-go-home nature of postseason football, Kalb is hopeful his team will be able to carry its momentum from a positive performance in an overtime loss to the Blue Devils into the trek to Roy Rogers Field next Saturday night.
“Regardless of the wins or the losses, we need to make sure we get better every week,” Kalb said. “To look how far we’ve come from week one to now, our improvement is humongous. I couldn’t be happier with our momentum coming from tonight, carrying into next week against Northwest.”
Northwest and Portsmouth will kick off from Roy Rogers Field on Saturday, Oct. 10 at 7 p.m.
The winner will travel to face No. 6-seed Columbus Bishop Ready on Saturday, Oct. 17.
Gallia Academy 18, Portsmouth 12 (OT)
Gallia Academy 0 6 0 6 6 — 18
Portsmouth 0 0 6 6 0 — 12
GA — James Armstrong, 24-yard pass from Noah Vanco (kick failed), 2:18 2Q (6-0 GA)
P — Chris Duff, 1-yard pass from Drew Roe (2-point failed), 5:20 3Q (6-6 tie)
P — Amare Johnson, 11-yard pass from Drew Roe (2-point failed), 8:30 4Q (12-6 P)
GA — James Armstrong, 16-yard run (kick failed), 6:37 4Q (12-12 tie)
GA — James Armstrong, 8-yard run (kick failed), OT (18-12 GA)
|Yards (Pass-Rush)||254 (112-142)||299 (197-102)|
|Time of Possession||19:39||28:21|
|Penalties||9 for 80||5 for 34|
RUSHING — Gallia Academy: James Armstrong 22-185 2TD, Michael Beasey 6-(-1), Daunevyn Woodson 1-(-2), Noah Vanco 6-(-40); Portsmouth: Amare Johnson 18-56, Drew Roe 12-18, Reade Pendleton 3-28
PASSING — Gallia Academy: Noah Vanco 11-19-0-112 TD; Portsmouth: Drew Roe 23-36-0-197 2TD
RECEIVING — Gallia Academy: Cameron Webb 5-53, James Armstrong 2-32 TD, Mason Skidmore 2-17, Briar Williams 1-7, Trent Johnson 1-3; Portsmouth: Reade Pendleton 10-68, Mike Duncan 4-59, Amare Johnson 3-30 TD, Chris Duff 4-23 TD, Devon Lattimore 2-17
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reservedv