PORTSMOUTH — While West was making Trojan Coliseum its house on Saturday night, Fairland’s Zander Schmidt decided to be an unwelcome guest.
That’s because Schmidt, by scoring both of the Dragons’ second-half touchdowns including the go-ahead and ultimate game-winner with five minutes and 13 seconds remaining, broke the host Senators’ hearts —and spearheaded Fairland’s thrilling 28-27 non-league season-opening football victory at Portsmouth High School.
That’s correct, as the Dragons did it again inside spectacular Trojan Coliseum.
Although, West —while its turf surface project at “The Rock” is not yet completed — was the home team, as Portsmouth High School permitted the Senators use of their home field.
The Senators, in fact, were going for a second season in a row with a win at Trojan Coliseum —as they defeated the Trojans there in October of last year (37-24).
On Saturday night, the Senators —under first-year head coach Todd Gilliland —erased a 7-0 deficit at the end of the first quarter, and outscored the Dragons 27-7 over a span of a quarter-and-a-half.
However, at a home away from home, West was unable to close the door on a lengthy and sustained second-half drive — and left that Dragons’ door ajar enough for Schmidt to break it down.
With a 27-21 advantage, West crafted a 15-play drive that devoured eight minutes and 51 seconds off the second-half clock —reaching the red zone all the way from its own 27-yard-line.
But facing 3rd-down-and-6 from the Dragons’ 19, the Senators were whistled for a false-start penalty —and two plays later they turned it over on downs at the 24.
That’s when Schmidt struck for the second time in the half — only this time was the quick-strike scenario.
Fairland sophomore quarterback Peyton Jackson found the wide open senior Schmidt in the middle of the field almost uncovered, as Schmidt — who broke two tackles — was off to the races for a 68-yard scamper that tied it at 27-27.
From there, Alex Bruce booted through his fourth of four successful extra-point kicks on the hot and humid night, as Schmidt’s score stunned the Senators —and their strong crowd in attendance.
“We were in a situation where we needed to make a stop. Because if they go down and score, I don’t know if there’s enough time left for us. They had really moved the ball well, and (Ryan) Sissel is tough and he was moving the chains for them. But we told our guys that they can drive the ball all the way down, all we have to have was one play. We found a way to have four plays in a row right there and get a stop,” said Fairland coach Melvin Cunningham. “Then Zander Schmidt shows his athletic ability that he has. He made the catch, made the play. And it turned into a big play for us.”
A big play for the Dragons, and a derailer for the Senators.
With West getting the ball back with 5:07 remaining, it moved to near midfield with an 18-yard pass completion from Mitchell Irwin to Jesse Dixon — but two of the Senators’ final three plays resulted in negative yardage, and they turned the ball over on downs with a minute-and-a-half left and unable to cross the 50.
For Gilliland and the Senators, it was a difficult defeat against a good Dragon unit — as West saw its 27-14 lead with 17:53 to go evaporate.
West outgained the Dragons 291-282, including 159-134 in rushing yards, and won the turnover affair 3-1.
However, all six of the Senators’ penalties occurred in the second half for 51 yards — as getting behind the chains and outside the red zone with the aforementioned false start loomed large.
“We were inside the red zone and made a mental error with that penalty. That puts us out and behind the sticks. That drive, with the lead, we were wanting to just keep the ball out of their hands, eat the clock up, and play four or five yards at a time. We were doing that really well, but in the heat of the moment, things happen and it was just a mental error that is part of the game. We still had opportunities to get a first down there, and just couldn’t get it. Then their kid (Schmidt) ran through a couple tackles and made a good play,” said Gilliland. “They have good players, and we knew that was what we had to deal with. They executed at the right time. We felt we were right there where we wanted to be, but it didn’t go our way.”
The Senators, in outscoring the Dragons by 20 points over a span of 18:23, seized control with a two-touchdown advantage with 5:53 to play in the third quarter.
After forcing Fairland into a three-and-out and punt possession, West’s Brandon Barfield kept the next drive alive by picking up seven yards on 3rd-and-4 —before Irwin rolled right and threw deep downfield to Dixon, who was simply wide open at the Fairland 35.
Dixon made the catch, and was all alone en route to scoring from 66 yards —as Landon Perkins’ third and final PAT kick made it 27-14.
Irwin, at quarterback, completed a serviceable seven of his dozen passes for 132 yards —but the Senators made most of their gains via the ground attack, with workhorse runner Ryan Sissel carrying 23 times for 112 yards.
But Jackson didn’t flinch in his first varsity start after two first-half interceptions, completing 7-of-15 passes for 148 yards —including three to Schmidt for 93.
Jackson and Schmidt combined on the march to get the Dragons to within 27-21 —as Jackson carried for 16 yards, and completed a pass to Schmidt for another 14.
Jackson then gained six and then another eight, as Schmidt scored from seven yards out to immediately answer the Senators’ Irwin-to-Dixon bomb.
Bruce’s extra-point kick made it a touchdown-game again — with 14 minutes and 40 seconds to play.
Cunningham credited his sophomore signal-caller for sticking with it after a rough opening and three-turnover half.
“We turned the ball over three times in the first half and still win the football game? First high school football game for him (Jackson). He throws two interceptions in a half. But the kid never flinched. The second half, what did we decide to do? Let him have the ball,” said the coach. “I told Peyton not to worry about the first half, because he was going to win the game for us the second half. He did a really good job of driving the train all night.”
Jackson added 40 rushing yards on nine attempts, as J.D. Brumfield —who scored on a nine-yard run for Fairland’s other first-half touchdown —dialed up team-highs of 15 rushes and 85 yards.
The Dragons scored first with 16 seconds to play in the opening quarter —when Jackson capped a nine-play, 81-yard drive with a 22-yard TD toss to Brycen Hunt, which was set up by Brumfield’s 32-yard haul from the Senators’ 45 to the 23.
West tied it at 7-7 with an impressive march of its own —burning five-and-a-half minutes off the second-quarter clock and moving 55 yards in 11 plays.
An Irwin to Brandon Anderson 4-yard throw produced the touchdown, which jump-started the flurry of points over the final three-and-a-half minutes.
West went up 14-7 on Jeffery Bishop’s athletic interception and return from 42 yards, followed by Brumfield’s score only a minute and 45 seconds later with 23 seconds left.
But the Senators answered on the half’s final play —as Sissel gained 23 yards to the Fairland 35, before an Irwin to Cole Tipton reception put West just a yard shy of the end zone.
Sissel, with no time on the clock, dove in to break the 14-14 tie —but the Senators misfired for the extra-point kick, which ultimately ended up making a huge difference.
For Gilliland, with his still sophomore and junior-laden squad which sports just six seniors, it was simply a matter of making one less play here —or just an error there.
“That’s the first time most of those guys have been in a game like this. It is a learning curve,” he said. “First game of the year, playing against a good team that had a lot of experience back on both sides of the ball. It was an even ballgame, and we pretty much knew it was going to be that. They made a play when they needed to. We had tons of positives and did a lot of things right and there are a lot of things to build on, but we made those few mistakes here and there that did us in. That happens in football sometimes.”
West will now, once again on Saturday night, be “hosting” a game at a facility away from the refurbished “Rock”.
That site is Northwest High School’s Roy Rogers Field —for its annual week-two rivalry matchup against Portsmouth.
* * *
Fairland 7 7 7 7 —28
West 0 20 7 0 — 27
F — Brycen Hunt, 22-yard pass from Peyton Jackson (Alex Bruce kick), :16, 1st (7-0 F)
W — Brandon Anderson, 4-yard pass from Mitchell Irwin (Landon Perkins kick), 3:29, 2nd (7-7 tie)
W — Jeffery Bishop, 42-yard interception return (Landon Perkins kick), 2:08, 2nd (14-7 W)
F — J.D. Brumfield, 9-yard run (Alex Bruce kick), :23, 2nd (14-14 tie)
W — Ryan Sissel, 1-yard run (kick failed), :00, 2nd (20-14 W)
W — Jesse Dixon, 66-yard pass from Mitchell Irwin (Landon Perkins kick), 5:53, 3rd (27-14 W)
F — Zander Schmidt, 7-yard run (Alex Bruce kick), 2:40, 3rd (27-21 W)
F — Zander Schmidt, 68-yard pass from Peyton Jackson (Alex Bruce kick), 5:13, 4th (28-27 F)
First downs 14 14
Scrimmage plays 47 53
Rushes-yards 32-134 41-159
Passing yards 148 132
Total yards 282 291
Cmp-Att-Int. 7-15-2 7-12-0
Fumbles-lost 1-1 3-1
Penalties-yards 3-25 6-51
Punts-Ave 3-38.7 4-36
RUSHING —Fairland: J.D. Brumfield 15-85 TD, Peyton Jackson 9-40, Zion Martin 4-14, Zander Schmidt 3-(-1) TD, Team 1-(-4); West:Ryan Sissel 23-112 TD, Jeffery Bishop 6-26, Brandon Barfield 5-16, Ashton Klaiber 1-8, Mitchell Irwin 6-(-3)
PASSING — Fairland: Peyton Jackson 7-15-2-148 2TD; West:Mitchell Irwin 7-12-0-132 2TD
RECEIVING— Fairland: Zander Schmidt 3-93 TD, Steeler Leep 1-28, Brycen Hunt 1-22 TD, J.D. Brumfield 2-5; West: Jesse Dixon 2-84 TD, Cole Tipton 2-37, Brandon Anderson 2-9 TD, Jeffery Bishop 1-2
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved