SCIOTO COUNTY — Two years ago, the season opener between visiting Valley and the Portsmouth Trojans turned out to be Drew Roe’s coming out party.
Now, as his senior season begins, will the standout quarterback Roe —who set several school records for the Trojans last year — record a similar showing?
Or, will the young yet experienced and up-and-coming Indians have Roe on the run — and as a result the Trojans in trouble?
Or, will this be a good old-fashioned shootout — similar to some previous meetings between the two in which the winner in all eight meetings has scored at least 28 points?
As always, with a new football campaign comes optimism mixed with skepticism — as there is plenty surrounding both the Indians and Trojans, which hook up once again in the 2021 opener on Thursday night.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. inside spectacular Trojan Coliseum in Portsmouth — as the Scioto County rivals renew their annual Thursday night showdown, following last season’s canceled contest caused by the coronavirus impact.
Since 2012, the Indians (4-5 in 2020) and Trojans (2-7 in 2020) have met on Thursday night in the opener —with Valley, as part of five consecutive state playoff appearances from 2011 thru 2015, winning the first four while Portsmouth, with back-to-back played-in playoff berths in 2018 and 2019, prevailed in the four most recent meetings.
Speaking of four and four, the main matchup to be expected is the Indians’ 4-4 defense under 32-year-head coach Darren Crabtree going against Roe — the first-team all-Southeast District Division V signal-caller who torched defenses last season for over 2,500 passing yards and 29 touchdowns.
While the senior stands only at five feet and seven inches tall and weighs 151 pounds, he is a serious dual threat both running and passing —as he began his career by completing 10 passes on 24 attempts for 146 yards and no interceptions against the Indians.
But, Roe’s greatest impact was leading the Trojans on a game-winning touchdown drive —completing a 10-yard pass to Talyn Parker with 38 seconds remaining for the 32-27 triumph.
Portsmouth won, despite Valley holding a 69-50 advantage in plays from scrimmage and out-gaining the Trojans 312-174 with a nine-minute advantage (28:30 for Valley and 19:30 for Portsmouth) in time of possession.
The Indians actually big-time bottled up Parker, the two-time Southeast District Division V Offensive Player of the Year, to only 21 rushing yards on 17 carries.
However, according to fourth-year PHS coach Bruce Kalb, a star was born that night.
“That game made us realize what type of quarterback we had in Drew Roe. We knew what we had, but we didn’t know what we had. Until that game with him. He was a sophomore making his first start, leading a senior-laden team down the field and punched one in for the go-ahead score and the win,” said Kalb. “I’m excited to see what Drew Roe can do this year against the team that he started off his career against.”
Crabtree, and some of his Indians’ 22 upperclassmen on their 31-man roster, remember that game well.
Of course, the Indians aim for a different result this time.
“It’s been a great series for us. They have the quarterback back and some very good receivers. We didn’t get to play them last year, but we’ve opened up probably the last six or seven years with Portsmouth, and our kids are always excited about playing them on a Thursday night. To have a chance to start our season off 1-0 against those guys would mean a lot to us,” said Crabtree. “We’ve had some success when we’ve played there in the past. These kids played really well down there two years ago, and a lot of these kids that played in that game are back.”
While the likes of the Indians’ leading tackler in linebacker Devin Wiley and starting defensive ends Blake Wood and Nick Bowles are graduated, Valley does return senior Chase Morrow — a two-time all-district outside linebacker including as a first-teamer two years ago.
Crabtree said the 5-11, 190-pound Morrow will anchor the Indians’ defense, moving from outside backer to the inside.
“Chase is our best tackler, he’s looked very good so far this year, and we expect him to run around and make a lot of tackles, make a lot of plays for us,” said the coach. “He seems to find the football and makes tackles. He has put on some weight, and has gotten a lot stronger. We look for him to do a lot of things for us inside this year.”
Morrow will have his eyes on Roe, who has a plethora of receivers to throw to including returners Reade Pendleton, Dariyonne Bryant and a healthy Donavan Carr —along with Valley transfer Jayden Duncan and six-foot six-inch Wheelersburg import Cooper Maxie.
Jayden Duncan’s uncle and former Portsmouth head coach Aaron Duncan is back on Kalb’s staff, as Kalb served as an assistant during Duncan’s years as the head man.
Pendleton, a first-team all-district wide receiver, posted over 40 receptions for over 700 yards — and was clearly Roe’s go-to guy.
Pendleton primarily became an intermediate target for Roe, while the likes of Bryant, Duncan and Carr can stretch defenses vertically.
However, Roe needs time to throw, and his offensive line — despite four of five starters graduated — needs to dramatically improve.
The experienced Indians, as will the Trojans, will feature several two-way linemen — although senior James Thurman (5-9, 190), the center last season, is Portsmouth’s only returning offensive starter.
For Valley, Justin Moore (6-6, 261, jr.) moves to defensive end after playing primarily tackle last season, as fellow junior Levi Stewart — at a tall 6-7 and 255 pounds —secures the other end spot.
Bryson Spencer (5-11, 265, sr.), Levi Osborne (5-11, 245, sr.) and Levi Bush (5-11, 320, jr.) all started a season ago and rotated at defensive tackle, as junior Lakota Dakota (6-0, 215, jr.) returns at inside linebacker.
George Arnett, the Indians’ featured running back, is being moved from safety to outside linebacker —providing extra athleticism to defend Roe and the Trojans’ talented skilled position players.
Valley also benefits from Dakota Secrest’s transfer back to the district from Northwest —where he adds depth to the secondary.
“With the exception of a couple of guys on both sides of the ball, we have somebody with game experience as a starter. We don’t have a lot of depth with the number of players we have, but with the first 13 or 14 kids we will throw out there on the field, we feel very confident. I think this will probably be the first time in three or four years that we’re able to put a team on the field of all juniors and senior starters,”said Crabtree. “We’ll have a couple of sophomores that will play here and there, but it makes so much difference when you can come out with a group that has experience and quality playing time at just about every position. The number of experienced players we have returning, we’re really excited to get this thing started.”
The Indians’ offense is centered around Arnett on the ground and returning starting quarterback Carter Nickel (6-1, 185, jr.) through the air —although Nickel is a capable runner and Arnett a dependable receiver.
In fact, given the transfers of Duncan to Portsmouth and Ty Perkins to Ironton, Arnett is the Indians’ returning leading pass-catcher.
“George (Arnett) has had two very good years, and we need to find a way to get him the ball as many times as we can,” said Crabtree. “But with (Carter) Nickel being able to run the football from the quarterback position, and with Chase Morrow back healthy at fullback and who hits the hole hard, that gives us three or four people back there who can share the load running the ball. Colton Buckle, being a junior, got a few carries last year as well.”
Crabtree, quite candidly, prefers not to get into a track meet with the Trojans —which have the reputation of scoring several points but are also guilty of giving up just as many.
Last season, the Trojans suffered a 66-63 basketball-like shootout loss at Coal Grove — and a 49-38 high-scoring setback at Chesapeake.
“Somebody said this may be one of those games where we have to outscore them to win. I hope that’s not the case, because I don’t like to get in those kinds of contests,” said Crabtree. “But at the end of the day, we just want to have more points on the scoreboard when the clock hits zero.”
As do the Trojans, in which should be another anticipated opener.
“This is always a competitive game for us. Has been for a while now. You know Darren (Crabtree) is going to bring kids, whether it’s 31 or 61, their kids are going to be prepared and know how to execute. But the mentality that is reigning supreme in this locker-room right now is that we have a chance and we can beat anybody on our schedule,” said Kalb. “This team will compete from beginning to end in every game this year.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved